Category Archives: dfw

Review: ‘Nomadland,’ A Distant Dream Comes Into Focus

Frances McDormand stars in Chloe Zhao’s captivating, rugged re-consideration of the American Dream. 

I was born in California and raised with the dream that when I was 65, I would be able to retire and enjoy my golden years in a modest house with my modest wife on a modest income. 

That was the dream of many people in the past, a fantasy that has grown more distant over the years. Nowadays, I know I will not be in an economic position to retire, that I will need to somehow earn money through the end of my days in this world, just to be able to put food on the table and keep a roof over my head. 

What, though, if I could break free from traditional expectations and aim to live, not in a home or apartment in a fixed location, but instead survive by my hard work and wits on the road, savoring life on the road? That appears to be the course that Fern (Frances McDormand) is following. 

She has lost her husband, her livelihood, and her home after the closure of a mine in her former home territory, so she has packed up her van and hit the road. She begins to meet and mingle with other so-called “nomads,” who each have their own motivations to leave behind a traditional lifestyle. Some are more experienced, and are willing to share  hard-earned tips they have picked up along the way; some are younger and some are older, but Fern is happy to listen and befriend like-minded people, no matter their origin or destination. 

Fern picks up jobs, both seasonal and temporary to cover her expenses as she roams across the country. She has become rootless, not homeless; her home is wherever she happens to be. She has no destination in mind, nor does she have a particular future in mind. 

What will she do if she experiences a disabling physical affliction or suffers an accident? She prefers to push those possibilities aside, preferring to soak in the endless variety of landscapes that she sees in a different light, now that she is a resident of the endless road. 

Director Chloe Zhao (The Rider) allows Fern and her growing assemblage of friends and acquaintances to take center stage, revolving around Frances McDorman’s marvelously modest performance. She knows that her subtle reactions to the scenery and the people that surround her communicate volumes. The film does not follow narrative conventions, yet always moves forward, examining Fern and how she adjusts to her changed circumstances. 

Fern does not talk much about her future, but her mild and optimistic nature is contagious. We’re left with the idea that she will survive in her new world for as long as she can,solo and alone but never solitary. Then she will figure out what to do after that. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on Friday, February 19, via Searchlight Pictures. It will also be available to watch beginning the same day on the Hulu streaming service. For more information about the film, visit the official site

Review: ‘Minari,’ It’s All About Family

Steven Yeun stars in director Lee Isaac Chung’s beguiling tale about a Korean family and their new farm in Arkansas during the 1980s.

Families come in all sizes, shapes, colors, and races. We know this to be true, yet the sight of a new, “different” family coming into our neighborhood nowadays can still stir old resentments and, sadly, old prejudices. 

How much more so, then, if a film rewinds to the 1980s and sets itself in rural Arkansas, as writer/director Lee Isaac Chung does in his beguiling new family portrait Minari. On the face of it, a film revolving around a Korean family moving to the South during a period of economic revival in “Reagan’s America” appears destined to depict harsh racial prejudices and unwelcoming neighbors. 

Jacob (Steven Yeun, best-known from TV’s The Walking Dead) is none too interested in any neighbors; his focus is the land. In Arkansas, real estate prices have made it possible for him to buy sufficient acreage for a working farm. While he and his wife Monica (Han Yeri) spend their weekdays doing the same type of mind-numbing manual labor that they did previously in California, Jacob spends every available hour developing the farm, leaving their children, David (Alan Kim) and Anne (Noel Kate Cho) to fend for themselves. 

Constantly exhausted, Jacob and Monica have little time for each other, much less their children, so Jacob eventually agrees to invite Monica’s mother Soonja (Youn Yuh-jung) to come from Korean to live with them. This helps relieve some of the pressure on Monica, but more especially helps provide companionship to young David, though he is initially resistant to a grandmother he has never known before. 

The adult actors all give performances that feel authentic and lived-in; they are not always admirable, which, truthfully, bolsters their believability. Chung, drawing from his own personal life and family experiences, details the characters distinctly and buttresses their strengths and weaknesses with events that look and feel vividly cinematic. The emphasis on the family pushes supporting characters firmly to the sidelines, which also feels and looks like the best way for the family, or any family, to succeed in their new circumstances. 

The interplay between family members tugs at the heart. It’s easy to root for the family, who may speak Korean but also convey the universal truth that family comes first, come what may, no matter what anyone says or does. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on Friday, February 12, 2021, via A24 Films. It will be available On Demand on February 26. For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Dallas VideoFest33 Docufest: ‘The First Film,’ ‘Texas Trip,’ ‘Proof’

David Wilkinson’s The First Film fits snuggly into an avenue of programming Dallas VideoFest often champions, which is the inward exploration of film itself, either through a certain filmmaker or a unique tangent of its long history. I’d dare say this film probably extends back into cinematic history as far as one possibly can.

As an actor, writer and producer since the early 1970s, Wilkinson has struggled to gain acceptance of his idea that an early technological pioneer named Louis LePrince is the man responsible for the very first film images taken in the British town of Leeds. Not Paris. Not New York. But Leeds.

Fortunately for him, very small snippets of three LePrince moving pictures still exist. One of them is of a busy street in the center of Leeds’ square. The second documents an employee of LePrince as he slowly skulks around a concrete building corner. And the third (and most impressive) is a seemingly carefree parade of bodies (namely his family) as they pose and have fun on the lawn.

From these seconds of almost deteriorated film, Wilkinson spins a documentary that borders on the conspiratorial. He examines the war of technology being waged around the world, identifying at least 11 other figures who could also be called the fathers of cinema. He visits museums where original cameras belonging to LePrince are housed, giving the viewer a clinic on how they work. He chases down great-great relatives of the man in Memphis and rummages through old letters for clues. He even interviews an attorney to explain how patents are generated.

And did I mention that all of this becomes clouded by the fact that, not long after completing these indelible images in late 1888, LePrince boarded a train and disappeared, never to be seen again? It’s enough to make your head spin, or at least heavily induce the myth that Edison really was a shred businessman with tentacles that could dissect his competition across the ocean.

And Wilkinson does just enough head-spinning and myth-making as he proceeds down various rabbit holes, piecing together tiny strands of long-lost information and inferring what he can from them. And while that can be interesting at times, it also creates a sense of lethargy. Because he follows so many possibilities, The First Film loses its energy in the middle. It’s scholarly, but rigid. It’s determined, then scattershot, especially in the inclusion of certain interviews. It presents too much information, and then not enough. It’s clear Wilkinson is passionate about his life’s project, but it could have used a more incisive thoroughfare to the heart of its subject.

All of this aside, there are piercing moments of cinema history that deserve to be discussed. The full truth of LePrince’s hand in the formation of movies may never be reckoned, but Wilkinson is doing the noble thing by asking questions.

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Whether it’s their choice of subject matter or the expansive and chameleon-like landscape of the country, America often looks different when confronted by European filmmakers. Think of the American films of Wim Wenders (especially Paris, Texas) or Jacques Demy’s Model Shop, one of the best films of the 60s for how it elevated the usual California backdrop into a golden playground of vistas for its main characters.

Well, Texas looks downright otherworldly in Steve Balestreri and Maxime Lachaud’s Texas Trip, A Carnival of Ghosts, a free-floating exploration of both dilapidated drive-in theaters and the Texas noise-music scene. An odd combination, yes, but one that works.

We’re first introduced to Mother Fakir, an artist in the Austin area whose voice-over lends a poetic tinge to the film. He talks about his art and the pain that he’s able to block out on stage while performing acts of body horror, which will later get its full due, alongside his droning, pulsating music. Also observed is the band Attic Ted, known for the painted, over sized masks they wear while performing … and apparently while grocery shopping as well.

Interspersed between these bands and their creative-filled days, Balestreri and Lachaud’s film becomes a lament for the weed-infested parcels of land once known to house bustling drive-in movie theaters. Sometimes, the bands take over the space for a concert. Most times they lay dormant and forgotten. There’s no grand statement on how these two tangents of the film intersect. Texas Trip, A Carnival of Ghosts doesn’t seem overly interested in making anything other than a document of a select few people and their environment. This is especially true in the staged tableaux of people in Attic Ted masks standing motionless against a hectic backdrop, most often I-35 or a Wal-Mart parking lot. Hints of a Harmony Korine vibe infest the film, but rest assured, Texas Trip is its own unique beast.

As their debut film, Balestreri and Lachaud have a keen eye for landscapes. They way they capture a seemingly winter Texas sky or the care in which they situate their camera to observe the ruins of once-loved cinema hot spots display an understanding (and even reverence) of time and place. They also seem to have a deep affection for the types of films that used to play here. Lachaud has written a book called Redneck Movies (available only in French) and Texas Trip deploys horror movie clips at just the right time, reminding us of the fringe culture being observed here and how these musicians spin their own horror shows. It’s almost as if Lachaud has made his own redneck movie finally. And seen at an actual drive-in at DocuFest is the most perfect homage imaginable.

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Crisp black and white images that capture moments from the past are my bag. I follow several Twitter accounts devoted to images of Texas history. They’re never less than jaw-dropping, freezing people, faces and places that stir the imagination and challenge our understanding of the non-modern world.

Mark Birnbaum’s Proof takes such images as its starting point. His subject, Fort Worth’s own Byrd Williams IV, has taken it upon himself to excavate and preserve three generations worth of his family’s photographic history. The film is also an exploration of Byrd himself, reconciling some violent moments in his family’s past as well as the conflicting thoughts that race through his mind as we all deal with an ongoing pandemic and how art reflects those times.

Following a fairly routine documentary set-up, Proof is only as good as its subject. Fortunately, in Williams IV and his restless sense of archival research, the film has a good anchor.

Review: ‘You Should Have Left’ Unsettles to a Diabolical Degree

Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried star in the psychological thriller, directed by David Koepp. 

All they wanted was a pleasant, relaxing family vacation. They got something else, instead. 

By all outward appearances, Theo Conroy (Kevin Bacon) should be a happy man. Rich and retired, Theo is married to successful actress Susanna (Amanda Seyfried). They are very much in love and are happily raising their daughter, Ella (Avery Essex), 6 years of age and full of energy. Something from his past continues to gnaw at Theo, however, giving him traumatic nightmares, so ahead of Susanna’s next job in London, they decide to spend some private time together as a family.

They rent a large, modern house in Wales, a short drive from a sparsely-populated village, and settle in for a restful retreat. Large and comfortable as it is, though, the house contains some puzzling design elements, and before long, both Theo and Susanna realize that something is not quite right about their vacation home, which is turning into a horrifying nightmare of its own. 

Based on a novella by German-language writer Daniel Kehlman, first published in 2017, You Should Have Left has been written for the screen and directed by David Koepp, who previously adapted Richard Matheson’s Stir of Echoes (1999) — with Kevin Bacon in the lead — and Stephen King’s Secret Window (2004) into clever, unsettling tales of filmed horror. 

Known for his contributions to screenplays that allowed directors to put their own distinctive stamps upon the films, starting back in the 1990s with Toy Soldiers, Death Becomes Her, Jurassic Park, and Carlito’s Way, in his own films as a director, Koepp has consistently served up personal, audience-pleasing films that defy easy expectations, such as The Trigger Effect (1996) and Premium Rush (2012). 

After the manifold disappointments of Mortdecai (2015), then, it’s a pleasure to watch You Should Have Left and observe how he deftly introduces familiar tropes, such as traumatic memories, an impossibly huge house, and a child in peril, only to pull the rug out from the expected route to a satisfying resolution. It’s not that the tropes simply vanish, or that Koepp is able to completely elide genre expectations, but it’s more a matter of his elegance in dealing with what the audience might anticipate, like a rollicking rollercoaster that appears to be headed off a cliff. 

Koepp presents the film with a delicious balance of visual cues and flourishes, complemented by a well-honed script that mostly avoids the obvious pitfalls. Impressively, for the most part, there are no more than three actors on screen at any one time, and all three are capable of holding the attention of the audience, especially Kevin Bacon, who dives into the idea that his character is, in fact, getting older, and sufficiently weathered that his wife and daughter both merrily mention it frequently. Amanda Seyfried brings full-bodied vitality to a relatively thankless role as The Wife, while newcomer Avery Essex makes a believable and spirited child. 

Really, the only constant reminder that You Should Have Left is meant to be a horror movie is the spooky musical score composed by Geoff Zanelli, but that feels more like an after-thought by director David Koepp, as if anyone in the audience might forget what kind of movie they are watching. 

That won’t happen. The film is a sturdy, sure-footed thriller that keeps things nicely off balance until its very last moment. 

The film opens everywhere on Thursday, June 18, 2020 , via various On Demand providers. For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Review: ‘Limo Ride’

dfn-limo-ride-300I’m not sure I completely believe everything in Gideon Kennedy and Marcus Rosentrater’s self described “doc comedy” Limo Ride, but it’s still an infectious and ludicrous tale that starts out as a small adventure between ten Alabama people binge-drinking, drug-taking and all out partying on their way to the New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge in Pensacola, Florida, and then quickly swerves into something more sinister and chaotic. It’s basically the country-fried bender to end all benders.

Narrated by the actual participants in a vulgar and irreverent cacophonous voice over (at times speaking over one another, then the next arguing about what really happened), Limo Ride begins in overdrive, barely giving us time to properly acclimate ourselves with the primary people as we watch actors portraying them on screen. Like the night itself, it can’t seem to wait in getting right to the mayhem.

The first bad choice (in just a string of them) points to the rash decision by one of the members of the group to book a limo for the next morning at 2am on New Year’s Eve. Looking back in hindsight, the act is bemoaned by the group, but their non-stop delirium quickly clouds rational thought.

When the limo does arrive and all ten — which comprises nine guys and one female, which is yet another harbinger of the poor dynamics about to erupt– crawl in, things start off innocently enough. They make the polar bear plunge in “Flora-Bama,” hit a few bars and continue drinking heavily. Stage jumping and microphone dropping ensues. Minor scuffles, between both themselves and others in the bars, become regular occurrences.

It’s only after the limo driver returns after being AWOL for half of the liquor-induced day with another man that darker waves invade the group’s frigid water escapades. The long day turns into night where more alcohol, fights and scary turns down gravel-lined country roads soon become a nightmarish trip that Limo Ride documents with garish re-enactments and no-holds barred commentary.

At times pungently funny and other times cringe-worthy in the ignorant ways the group gets themselves into hazy predicaments, Limo Ride plays like a private recording of these people sitting around a campfire, years later, and recollecting the story partially out of disbelief but mostly with childish glee. Even though we don’t get a strong sense of personality behind these guys (and even less about the one girl), Limo Ride isn’t interested in baring their souls, but simply recapping an event that, in retrospect, I suppose isn’t too far removed from one ill-advised vacation trip or drunken Vegas weekend removed from reality.

And to put a bow on the whole thing, stay for the end credits as a voice over from Noelle (who seems to get the worst from everything that happens) recounts the moment when, months later, he overhears two people talking about their mishap as if it’s some urban legend. Because even the participants can’t fully recollect the timeline of certain events or if they even happened during their Polar Bear Plunge trip, it’s a fitting coda to a story that firmly belongs in redneck mythology.

Limo Ride will play at the Texas Theatre for a limited engagement on Tuesday, October 4, with the filmmakers in attendance. It also opens on VOD platforms beginning October 14.

 

 

 

Coming Soon: ‘Wild Tales,’ ‘Kidnapping Mr. Heineken,’ ‘Buzzard,’ and More

'Wild Tales' (Sony Pictures Classics)
‘Wild Tales’ (Sony Pictures Classics)

Opening Friday, March 6

    • Chappie (d. Neill Blomkamp) A robot gains intelligence and inspires violent opposition from Hugh Jackman. Wide release.
    • Unfinished Business (d. Ken Scott) Vince Vaughn and Dave Franco in a comedy about, er, men in suits. In Europe. Wide release.
    • Buzzard. A young man has “issues.” Texas Theatre.
    • Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem. “In Israel there is neither civil marriage nor civil divorce.” A documentary about a woman who wants one of those. Angelika Dallas.
    • Kidnapping Mr. Heineken. Anthony Hopkins as a beer baron with brains that may get blown out. TBA.
    • Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. A sequel adds Richard Gere. Wide release.
    • These Final Hours. The end of the world. AMC Grapevine Mills.
    • Wild Tales. A superb collection of stories that paint a funny, disturbing, and dazzling view of modern life. Angelika Dallas, Angelika Plano.

Opening Friday, March 13

  • Cinderella. A poor girl is transformed for one night. Wide release.
  • Run All Night. Retired hitman Liam Neeson must protect his son (Joel Edgerton) from an angry mob boss (Ed Harris). Wide release.

Opening Friday, March 20

  • The Divergent Series: Insurgent. Shailene Woodley leads a revolution against one-word movie titles. Wide release.
  • Do You Believe? A religious drama. Wide release.
  • The Gunman. An angry Sean Penn, on the run in Europe. Wide release.

Opening Friday, March 27

  • Get Hard. Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart train to go to prison. Wide release.
  • Home. An animated adventure. Wide release.