Five Cinema Arts Festival flicks that our critic won't miss
There are so many outstanding attractions available at the 2010 Cinema Arts Festival that it should be easy to quickly compile a must-see list. But before you fill up your dance card, consider these five worthy offerings that might not yet be on your radar:
1. Thunder Soul(Saturday, 6:45 p.m., Discovery Green, free)
Mark Landsman’s irresistibly enjoyable documentary is an affectionately respectful celebration of the legendary Kashmere High School jazz stage band of the 1970s. For the benefit of those who tuned in late: Back during the Me Decade, Kashmere band director Conrad O. Johnson Sr., affectionately known as "Prof," was a man with an audacious plan: At a time when most other high school jazz ensembles stuck to big-band standards, he drew up a playlist of funky Top 40 hits and his own original compositions for his student musicians to perform.
The students added some tightly choreographed smooth moves to the mix, amping their stage presence while victoriously competing in regional and national events. Drawing heavily from a wealth of archival material — everything from yearbook photos to vintage movie clips — Landsman vividly conveys the historical context for his true-life, Houston-based human drama.
But the most affecting segments in Thunder Soul are those that focus on a 2008 Kashmere Stage Band reunion concert rehearsed and performed at Kashmere High. Many of the same musicians will reunite for a live performance after the Cinema Arts Festival’s screening at Discovery Green. (Note: The screening has been moved to Saturday, Nov. 13 due to inclement weather.)
2. Double Take (9:45 p.m. Thursday, 9:45 p.m. Sunday at Edwards Greenway Grand Palace)
Alfred Hitchcock meets Alfred Hitchcock in Belgian filmmaker and media artist Johan Grimonprez’s ambitious montage of fact, fear and fiction during the bad old days of Cold War paranoia.
Loosely based on a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, the film intermingles clips from the classic Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series and scenes featuring actor Ron Burrage as the Master of Suspense while provocatively suggesting that, just as Hitchcock “sold” thrills and chills to his receptive audiences, television newscasts (and other media) stoked pubic fears of a seemingly inevitable nuclear showdown between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.
Double Take, Grimonprez says, looks at how “fear was projected into society, like a fiction, on both sides of the ideological divide between East and West. It’s also about the fear industry and how fear has become a commodity.”
3. For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism(1 p.m. Friday, Edwards Greenway Grand Palace)
Anyone genuinely concerned about the storied history, current status and uncertain future of American film criticism would do well to view Gerald Perry’s labor-of-love documentary. Perry, a veteran critic and historian, does a fine job of balancing gray eminences and young Turks while assembling interviewees for his history lesson.
The great Stanley Kaufmann is authoritatively eloquent while describing the earliest reviewers (circa 1909-29) as writers who "were discovering film as they were writing about it." As effective counterpoint, Elvis Mitchell is all youthful exuberance while recalling his first gig as a critic: "The idea of going to the movies for free? That was like the express train to heaven."
Right from the start, however, For the Love of Movies cautions that film criticism currently is "a profession under siege," as newspapers and magazines pink-slip experienced scribes to slash expenses and/or skew younger, and online sites struggle to fill the gap with mixed results. Unfortunately, the situation has only gotten worse during the two years since this film was completed.
You can ask Perry himself for a progress report during a post-screening Q&A.
4. Idiots and Angels (9:45 p.m. Friday at Edwards Greenway Grand Palace)
If you cackled at I Married a Strange Person (1998) and guffawed at Mutant Aliens (2001)… well, even if you did, you still might not be ready for the latest mondo-bizzaro fantasia to spring from the fevered imagination of animator Bill Plympton.
It’s a hand-drawn, dialogue-free dark comedy about a surly misanthrope who gets a shot at redemption — whether he wants it or not — when he inexplicably sprouts wings that force him to do good things. Since he’s such a misanthrope – if you swipe his parking space, he’ll torch your car -- his first impulse is to rid himself of the unwelcome appendages.
But in the world according to Plympton, a dreamscape that New York Times critic Stephen Holden aptly describes “Toulouse-Lautrec by way of Charles Bukowski,” it sometimes requires immense effort to be as bad as you want to be. Of course, even there, some folks are up to the challenge.
5. Ride, Rose, Roar (9:45 p.m. Saturday, 6:45 p.m. Sunday at Edwards Greenway Grand Palace)
This ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no humdrum concert documentary. Indeed, right from the start of David Hillman Curtis’ infectiously exuberant concert film, as a white-suited David Byrne blowtorches his way through a spirited rendition "Once in a Lifetime" while backed by a perfectly attuned ensemble of similarly clad dancers, vocalists and musicians, you know you’re in for a wild, wild lively time.
Deftly alternating between black-and-white behind-the-scenes glimpses and full-color footage of live performances, Ride follows Byrne and company on 2008-09 tour that boasts a playlist of both "greatest hits" (songs from Byrne's Talking Heads heyday) and Byrne’s more recent collaborations with composer Brian Eno.
In an off-stage interview, Byrne admits he deliberately aimed for a mix of music and dance that would often make the audience wonder: "What the hell is that?" He most certainly succeeds — in a good way, mind you — with a little help from choreographers Noemie Lafrance, Annie-B Parson and the Robbinschilds partnership of Sonya Robbins and Layla Childs.