Tag Archives: dallas

Review: ‘Belfast,’ Snapshots That Resonate 

Where did you grow up? Do you still live in your hometown? 

Many were born in this area and have never left. Others of us, including myself, moved here from other parts of the country, while still others fled unsafe regions of the world and have settled in North Texas. Whatever the case, we probably all still yearn to experience fond memories from our youth, to recall and reminisce. From my own experience, this is especially true as we grow older. 

Filmmaker Kenneth Branagh, rapidly approaching 61 years of age, has now turned his attention to his own youth. Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, he and his family fled to greener, safer pastures as ‘The Troubles’ in his native land reached a boiling point in 1969. 

Framed as a tribute, his latest film, Belfast, presents its story from the perspective of a nine-year-old boy in that tumultuous year. The beguiling Buddy (Jude Hill) happily wanders through his neighborhood on his way home; everyone knows everyone else in the tight-knit community, and shares similar values. 

Or so it would seem, except that The Troubles quickly come home and Buddy’s world is sent spinning. 

As a filmmaker, Kenneth Branagh has built a reputation based on his screen adaptations of stage plays by Shakespeare (Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Love’s Labour’s Lost, As You Like It) or influenced by Shakespeare (A Midwinter’s Tale, All Is True), as well as plays and novels by other writers (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Sleuth, Murder on the Orient Express). His productions for major studios (Thor, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Cinderella, Artemis Fowl) reflect the work of a journeyman, rather than an auteur. 

Shot by cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, who has been working with Branagh since Sleuth, and presented in black and white, Belfast marks a fitting departure in style for the filmmaker, calling to mind some of his earlier films in the 1990s. By making a young boy the protagonist, and capturing the narrative from his perspective, Branagh allows the viewer’s knowledge and general assumptions about the period to fill in any blanks. Anything that is left vague and imprecise can be safely attributed to Buddy’s youth. 

From his vantage point, it’s easier to soak in the churning and chaotic atmosphere that is all that the boy has known all his life. It only becomes more important to him when he realizes that his older brother Will (Lewis McAskie) and his parents (Caitriona Balfe and Jamie Dornan), referred to only as Ma and Pa, are quite rightly anxious and concerned about the effect that The Troubles are having upon their children. 

Meanwhile, Buddy enjoys spending time with his loving grandparents (Judi Dench, Ciaran Hinds) and his cousins. It’s all fun and games until someone gets a body part blown off, so to speak, prompting Buddy to snap to attention and come to the recognition that somehow, in some way, his entire world is about to shift on its axis. 

Until that point arrives, Belfast is a marvelously-accomplished, resonant snapshot of a moment in time that is gone forever, but not forgotten. Every immigrant will see something of themselves in the story. I imagine every native who has never left will see something familiar too. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on Friday, November 12, via Focus Features. For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Festival Files: 2017 DFW South Asian Film Fest

Celebrating its third year, the Dallas/Fort Worth Asian Film Festival (DFW SAFF) kicks off this weekend. With an impressive slate of shorts, documentaries and feature films, the festival will also feature a variety of Q&A sessions with stars and directors. All access festival passes can be purchased for $175 and individual film passes can be purchased on the day of the selected film. Visit their website here for further information and ticketing info. Stay tuned to coverage all weekend at Dallas Film Now.

From the SAFF press release:

Now in its third year, the Dallas/Fort Worth South Asian Film Festival (DFW SAFF), taking place from March 3rd to 5th at the Perot Museum (downtown Dallas) and AMC Village on the Parkway 9 (Addison), will showcase 19 shorts, documentaries and feature films, over a three-day-period.

The closing night film will be the North American premiere of Ananth Mahadevan’s Marathi biopic “Doctor Rakhmabai,” starring Tannishtha Chatterjee, the queen of independent cinema, in the title role. It is the story of India’s first practicing lady doctor, social rebel and medical pioneer who paved the way for a fight against gender discrimination. “Not only will this be our closing night film, it will also nicely round out the women’s programming at our festival,” said founder and director, Jitin Hingorani.

The entire festival schedule is as follows:

Friday, March 3rd – Opening Night Screening, Red Carpet & VIP Reception
Perot Museum (downtown Dallas) from 6 p.m. to midnight:

Yellow Tin Can Telephone” (short) followed by
A Billion Colour Story” (Opening Night Film)
*Followed by Q&A with director Padmakumar Narasimhamurthy &
producer Satish Kaushik

Saturday, March 4th – Shorts, Documentaries, Centerpiece Programming
AMC Village on the Parkway 9 (Addison) from 11 a.m. to midnight:

11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Youth Programming
India in a Day” (documentary)
*Followed by winning videos of Parish School’s
“One Minute Smartphone Video” contest & scholarships

1:15 to 3 p.m.
Khoya” (feature)
*Followed by Q&A with director Sami Khan & actor Rupak Ginn

3:15 to 6 p.m.
Indo-Pak Programing (Zeal for Unity Films)
Silvat” (short)
Lala Begum” (short)
Guddu Engineer” (short)
*Followed by Q&A with director Mehreen Jabbar

6:15 to 9:15 p.m.
Men’s Programming
Mochi” (short)
Babu’s Dilemma” (short)
Azaad” (short)
Lathe Joshi” (Centerpiece Film)

9:30 p.m. to midnight
Centerpiece VIP Party (ticketed event)
Saffron House – Village on the Parkway

Sunday, March 6th – Children’s & Women’s Programming, Closing Night Film
AMC Village on the Parkway 9 (Addison) from noon to 10 p.m.

Noon to 1 p.m.
Children’s Programming
Priyanth” (short)
Jacob’s Pond” (short)
Mast Qalandar” (short)
Syaahi” (short)

1:15 to 3 p.m.
The Journey Within” (documentary)
*Followed by Q&A with director Mian Adnan Ahmed

3:15 to 6:15 p.m.
Women’s Programming
Amishi” (short)
Leeches” (short)
Doctor Rakhmabai” (Closing Night Film)
*Followed by Q&A with actresses Tannishtha Chatterjee and Sayani Gupta

6:15 to 10 p.m.
Closing Night Party (private event)
W Hotel Penthouse – 28th floor (downtown Dallas)

“The highlights of our programming this year are a focus on Marathi regional cinema with one short and two feature films in that language,” said Ambica Dev, the festival’s artistic director. “You’ll also notice themes of Indo-Pak (Hindu/Muslim) programming sprinkled throughout, given that 2017 is the 70th anniversary of India and Pakistan’s independence. Finally, we are proud to say that almost one-third of our films have a child as the central or prominent character.”

Actors, Directors & Producers in attendance at the festival include:

Satish Kaushik – actor/producer/writer/director

Viveck Vaswani – actor/producer/writer

Tannishtha Chatterjee – actor

Sayani Gupta – actor

Rupak Ginn- actor

Mehreen Jabbar – director

Padmakumar Narasimhamurthy – director

Mian Adnan Ahmed – director

Sami Khan – director

Review: ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’

dfn-billy_lynns_long_halftime_walk-300Much ballyhooed for director Ang Lee’s fight to shoot it at the high frame rate of 120 frames per second in 3D at 4K, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk arrives in Dallas movie theaters at the standard 24 frames per second in 2D. (* Except at one location in Addison; see below.)

As things worked out, only a few theaters in New York and Los Angeles are set up to present the film as Lee desired, so for those of us who live elsewhere, we must wrestle with it as it is: a major disappointment that looks very much like it was made for television. In 2D, all its shortcomings are plain to see.

The anti-war storyline, adapted by Jean-Christophe Castelli from Ben Fountain’s award-winning 2012 novel and set on a single day in 2004, is entirely conventional. Specialist Billy Lynn (newcomer Joe Alwyn) is a soldier in Iraq who has gained fame because a news photographer captured a moment when he came to the aid of a fellow soldier. Lynn and his fellow Bravo Squad members are sent home for a two-week press tour, culminating in a presentation during halftime of a football game in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day.

Lynn is suffering (most likely) from post-traumatic stress syndrome, and so are most of his fellow soldiers. They are spooked by any sudden or loud sounds and react as they would on the battlefield. Lynn’s sister, Kathryn (Kristen Stewart), has planted the idea in his head that he should remain home, rather than returning to Iraq, and so he is wrestling with that as well on the final day of Bravo Unit’s leave.

Ang Lee established himself in the 1990s with a series of films — from Pushing Hands through The Ice Storm — most notable for their convincing characterizations. Beginning with Ride with the Devil and quickly cresting with the elegant Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Lee sought to expand his horizons, sometimes reaching bruising personal heights (Brokeback Mountain) and sometimes allowing visual ambitions to overwhelm all else (Hulk, The Life of Pi).

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk feels like the latter type of ambitious failure. Presented in 2D at 24 frames per second, one is struck by a surfeit of close-ups, often featuring the characters looking straight at the camera. The profusion of talking heads resembles how a documentary filmmaker might approach the material. Combined with a reliance on lighting that looks overly bright on a movie screen, it looks more like it belongs on a small screen.

None of that would matter as much if the characters were more distinctive or if the narrative weren’t so well-worn. Some of the plot devices are tiresome. The unit has hired an agent (Chris Tucker) to try and sell the movie rights to their story, demanding that it be accomplished during their brief trip to the U.S. The football team owner (Steve Martin) is a fatuous representative for all clueless business people who know nothing of war.

Just to make sure we get the point, another fatuous businessman (Tim Blake Nelson) tries to strike up a conversation with the unit, a representative for all clueless business people who know nothing of war but don’t own a football team. Billy Lynn catches the eye of a fatuous cheerleader (Makenzie Leigh) who immediately falls for him and wants to make out with him. Oh, Billy is a virgin, too, and thus (presumably) pure of heart.

Despite its anti-war inclinations, the movie is respectful toward all military personnel, as opposed to the often dumb and insulting civilians who dare to mouth off to them. Once the rusty plot engine cranks up, though, piloted by well-meaning and entirely heroic soldiers like Billy, Dime (Garrett Hedlund) and Shroom (Vin Diesel), the narrative putters along like a golf cart in a cornfield before harvest.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk fails to engage at the most basic levels, pushing away rather than intriguing or enveloping audiences in its message.

The film opens in theaters throughout Dallas on Friday, November 18.

* Late word is that the film will screen in 120fps/Dolby Vision 3D at the AMC Highland Village on the Parkway 9 in Addison.

Dallas VideoFest: A Primer On What To Expect

For those inexperienced or unsure of the “film festival” atmosphere, Dallas VideoFest28 should be the perfect time to dip their toes into the festival waters. A communal and one-setting event, it’s a breeding ground for films both regionally and internationally (125 of them).

Even though the festival officially kicked off earlier this week with a Yen Tan art exhibit and a special event of Metropolis featuring the Dallas Chamber Symphony and the SMU Dance team, films begin screening Thursday night and run through Sunday, October 18 at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas.

A few highlights of the event are as follows:

Jackelope, directed by Ken Harrison- one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in a while is Jackelope, a documentary that follows several Texas artists in the mid 1970’s as they travel the vast expanse of Texas (with a pit stop in New York) to exhibit and share their unique “Texas funk” creations. Ranging from sculpture work to painting to fabricated exhibitions, the film hits some sentimental notes with me when one scene purportedly shows some of the men shooting guns and blowing cars up in my hometown, probably only a few miles from the very house I lived in for years. Aimless, entrancing and fascinating, Jackelope (which originally aired on KERA in 1976) is a terrific time capsule exploring the against-the-grain philosophy of the snooty art world paradigms.

Jackelope screens on Saturday, October 17 at 3:30pm

Havana Motor Club, directed by Bent Jorgen Perlmutt- No ‘gearhead’ intelligence needed with this one as Perlmutt’s film lays out the dynamics of Cuban street racing’s quest for legitimacy well. Following two sets of car builders and the tireless efforts of car lovers around Cuba to establish a racing order that matters, Havana Motor Club is a solid documentary that fawns over and explains its subjects and their metallic creations. It also raises some ironic questions, including why did such personal freedoms become illegal immediately after the Cuban revolution that fought for such a thing. It’s an entertaining examination of male bravado and showmanship.

Havana Motor Club screens on Sunday October 18th at 8:15 pm.


Buckwheat’s World, directed by Andrew Kolker and Louis Alvarez- Mosaic portrait of zydeco player Stanley Dural Jr. that mixes video, backstage footage and direct interviews to flesh out a thrilling portrait of not only the musician, but the food, camaraderie and overall lazy feeling of Louisianna and its ensconced musical heritage.

Buckwheat’s World screens Friday October 16th at 9:30pm.


Other films and events to watch for:

Charlie Kaufman’s latest mind-screw entitled Anomalisa

Albert Maysles’ final film In Transit

Veteran festival films such as Krisha, (T)error and Excess Flesh

Aint It Cool News, with Harry Knowles in attendance

Ernie Kovacks award presentation to comedians Bob and Chris Elliot

Local interest films such as Cinema I and II: A History of Movies In Dallas As Seen Through NorthPark’s Iconic Theater and Big D Film Festival

Dozens of short film blocks sure to amaze, surprise and, perhaps, turn one onto a new talent.

Full festival info, tickets and schedules can be found at videofest.org. All screenings and events will take place at the Angelika Dallas from Thursday, October 15 through Sunday, October 18.

Review: ‘Maggie’

'Maggie' (Roadside Attraction)
‘Maggie’ (Roadside Attraction)
The zombie film has undergone so many reboots, iterations and dismantling that it takes something particularly unique to resonate.

In Henry Hobson’s debut film Maggie, that something is Arnold Schwarzenegger in a supporting role as a father struggling to maintain the serenity of ordinary home life as the zombie infection spreads around them. Despite the big name, the film is far removed from the idea of stunt casting. Yes, Schwarzenegger might draw more people to this than someone else, but Maggie works (and actually excels) because it’s a mournful, contemplative effort that denies the easy route of extraneous violence and typical zombie gore and emphasizes the pervasive sadness of losing touch with one’s humanity.

Essentially a father-daughter indie drama with the apocalypse as their backdrop, Maggie wastes little time in establishing any residual history of just how the plague began. Via snippets of radio transmission, we learn of some virus sweeping the world in which people experience “the turn” and become hungry for human flesh. Crops are ordered to be burned and anyone harboring an infected person outside of certain quarantine zones could be liable for punishment.

In this confused haze, Wade (Schwarzenegger) stumbles through a quarantine ward searching for his infected daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) after she ran away from home and was eventually found in urban Kansas City, wandering the streets homeless and scavenging for food. Given preferential treatment by his good friend Dr. Vern (Jodi Moore), Wade is allowed to take his daughter home and care for her until it’s time she be brought to a quarantine.

The logic here is that infection ranges from two to eight weeks, with symptoms and signs already clearly established, which allows authorities and clinical physicians a certain set of guidelines to act within. Body parts begin to decay, eyes turn a milky white and the infected maintains their personalty, feelings and reasons of deduction right up until the end and “the turn.” It’s a frightening and potent parable, much like the recently released It Follows, which attributes old school horror film specifications onto the damned youth of modern day America.

From there, Maggie becomes a slow-burn, sad waiting game. The local police (J.D. Evermore and Douglas Griffin) continually provide paranoia through their random “check-ups” on the farm. Step mother Caroline (Joely Richardson) doesn’t understand how to react and Wade continually evaluates the possibilities of how he’ll handle the end when it comes. There are no great infected horde homestead battles, just small, intimate ruminations that feel as oppressive and grand as any melee scenarios on the hugely successful The Walking Dead series.

As Maggie, Abigail Breslin does a touching job, striking the right amount of teenage awkwardness within her impossible situation, even still calling up an old boyfriend and hesitating when the answering machine clicks on, scared and unsure of exactly what to say. Likewise, Schwarzenegger, hidden behind a scruffy beard and weathered face, gives a solemn performance. If not for his unmistakable voice, one might not even recognize the former action star beneath his measured gait and quiet eyes that carefully watch and observe every twitch of his daughter as she descends into the clutches of the infection.

Filmmaker Hobsen, based on a script by John Scott 3, crafts poetic mood and tempo throughout. Even though the low budget touchstones are there, Maggie never feels burdened by them. And because the film chooses to magnify the inner turmoil of the zombie apocalypse, it’s fitting that we’re given only three or four settings and a handful of characters to tighten our focus.

After all, George A. Romero’s original vision in the film that started it all, Night of the Living Dead, was ultimately a subversive, independent treatise on racial inequality of the day. It’s only fitting that Maggie extends the incubation period for what feels like an agonizing amount of time to allow for lots of hand-wringing and emotional stasis in which we’re forced to observe a loved one waste away in front of our eyes. Apply any current sickness to that equation and, like Romero, the film has a lot on its subversive mind.

The film will open in limited release at the AMC Grapevine Mills and Look Cinemas in Dallas on Friday, May 8, as well as Video on Demand the same date.

Review: ‘5 Flights Up’

'5 Flights Up' (Focus World)
‘5 Flights Up’ (Focus World)
In Richard Loncraine’s 5 Flights Up (originally titled Ruth and Alex when it played at the Toronto Film Festival in the fall of last year), the story of a couple aging gracefully is far from its main objective, especially since the couple in question are played by spunky pros like Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman.

Instead of choosing to focus on the troubling or venerable aspects of the autumn years (i.e. Alzheimer’s or a debilitating sickness), the film navigates the simple but highly displeasurable vagaries of selling and buying within the modern day real estate market. In New York City no less. From that streamlined idea, 5 Flights Up manages to spin a warm, lived-in narrative supported by the effortless performances of Keaton and Freeman.

And since Freeman is in the film, we understand that means his majestic, stony voice will serve as the omniscient narrator. Out for a sunny morning walk with his dog, Dorothy, ageing painter Alex (Freeman) explains the shifting dynamics of his Brooklyn neighborhood. Replete with “hipsters” and Wall Street hotshots now, it’s a place that feels as if it’s passing him and his wife Ruth (Keaton) by the wayside. Sadly, what older neighborhood doesn’t seem to be self-imploding and restructuring itself lately, partly out of economic boom or bust but mostly due to any city’s inherent lack of self preservation? Just look at my own downtown Dallas for veritable proof.

And even more demanding on Alex is the flight of steps he traverses every day to reach his apartment. From that humble (but oh so true) set of obstacles, the couple have decided to place their home on the market, led by niece and go-getter real estate agent Lilly (Cynthia Nixon).

From there, 5 Flights Up devotes itself to presenting the ebb and flow of potential buyers, bidding wars, urgent cell phone conversations and Ruth and Alex’s own desire to acquire their own new home. It becomes a head-spinning charade, never losing sight of the sheer vapidity of most real estate surfers and agents.

Interspersed among this hectic 24 hours, Alex begins to think back on his relationship to Ruth, including their first day in the apartment, her own family’s outright hesitancy about the possible mixed-race marriage, and their first meeting as students when she arrived to be his portrait model. As the younger version of themselves, Korey Jackson and Alanna Blair emit wonderful chemistry together, which only serves to strengthen our attachment to them in the present tense.

Despite its at times cloy characterizations of other people around Ruth and Alex, and one subplot that feels a bit forced in its attempt to serve as a dramatic counterpoint, 5 Flights Up never loses its amiable charm or grace about this couple we care about. There are no great emotional upheavals (unless you’re a dog lover) and it underlines the basic tenants of feel-good older adult cinema with ease. It also proves that watching great actors like Keaton and Freeman still producing terrific work means Hollywood hasn’t quite bought into their own version of self-implosion just yet.

The film opens in Dallas at LOOK Cinemas on Friday, May 8.