Saturday, November 15, 2008

Not Closing Night

The turn in the weather meant that many visitors to our city found out what the downtown Fort Worthers already know: The sidewalk in front of the AMC Palace turns into a wind tunnel on even moderately breezy days. With all the running I did between downtown venues, I had plenty of opportunities to get my hair mussed.

I started off with 'Trinidad' at the Four Day Weekend Theater. The film was insightful, but I was even more impressed by the improvements in projection quality at that venue. Dennis Bishop was on hand to explain that the theater has a new screen and some parts from the now-defunct AMC Sundance theater (which apparently still has all the old projectors). Now we get a decent video picture here. The Four Day Weekend guys have always been happy to provide a venue for the local festivals, but this is a fair-sized step up.

Speaking of the old AMC Sundance, it's now been replaced by a Norris Conference Center, which is now officially open for business and serving as the festival's headquarters. The building looks much nicer with new lighting and carpets, and there's a nicely decked out Festival Lounge with divans and throw pillows. (Weirdly, I've never seen more than a few people in there at any time.) The staff is very nice, and the place is good to visit for either visitor information or just to check out the new digs. Interestingly, there are four large Warhol-influenced paintings of John Lennon, John Wayne, Al Pacino, and Frank Sinatra decorating the main lobby. These aren't here for the festival -- Norris actually owns them. It's an odd touch for a center for business meetings, but maybe they're hoping to attract cool, creative businesses.

Anyway, the festival organizers were heavily hyping this afternoon's screening of 'The Banishment', not least because the film's writer-director Andrei Zvyagintsev was due to make a personal appearance. Unfortunately, it didn't go so well. The crowd was reasonably sized (about two-thirds full in the small auditorium), but the 35mm print got lost between London and Fort Worth (they showed the film on DVD instead), the director was held up by Customs at the airport (apparently a Russian guy flying in to Dallas from Costa Rica raises questions), and the sound cut out about half an hour into the film, so the audience was treated to about five minutes of silent movie, followed by a rewind and then those same five minutes with the sound.

On top of it all, the film proved to be tough sledding. It played at Cannes last year to wildly mixed reviews, and though the film's star Konstantin Lavronenko won the acting prize for his work, lots of people there found the movie boring. So did some of the people here -- there were a few walkouts -- and with its deliberate pace, lack of dramatic fireworks, and 159-minute running time, it's no wonder that the film hasn't yet found a distribution deal in this country. Zvyagintsev (whom the staffers called "Mr. Z" because they had trouble pronouncing his name) made an eye-catching debut a few years ago with his prize-winning debut film 'The Return', and he's often been compared with the 1960s Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky. 'The Banishment' had the same effect on me as much of Tarkovsky's stuff -- I see the director's enormous talent in terms of composition, timing, and color (even in a DVD projection), but it just doesn't cast that hypnotic spell on me that it does on other moviegoers. Clearly the festival organizers believe passionately in this movie. They even distributed bound copies of an essay by Evgeny Vasiliev detailing the movie's intricate patterns of religious symbolism and artistic allusions. I get all that. It just didn't do much for me.

By the way, Zvyagintsev did eventually show up to take questions from the audience at the end of the film. However, I'm afraid I missed that because the various delays left me with only half an hour to grab dinner before the next screening. Forgive me, gentle readers. Perhaps some of you who were there can fill us in on what he said.

'Last Chance Harvey' was dubbed as the Closing Night screening, which is bizarre given that the festival doesn't actually close until tomorrow. There was a full house for this movie, no doubt drawn by the star power of Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, whom you may remember appeared in 'Stranger Than Fiction' a couple of years back. 'Harvey' is being released at the end of this year -- I think the studio is looking to make this into a hit among older viewers like 'The Bucket List' last year. This movie is better, but it's still something that'll blow away in a stiff breeze. The whole plot is basically Hoffman and Thompson meeting each other and falling in love during a 24-hour period when he's stranded in London while attending his daughter's wedding. I like the concept (think 'Before Sunrise' for older people) and these are two great actors. It doesn't deserve to get lost amid the Oscar contenders, but neither does it deserve to draw bigger audiences than them. Something tells me I'll be unhappy either way.

I ended the evening back at the Norris, where I saw 'Night Crawlers', a horror flick filmed partially in Burleson and Cleburne. It was no 'Let the Right One In,' but it was still way more watchable than I expected. It starred Lee Trull and Gabriel Horn as two loser best friends who find the population of their small Texas town turning into vampires. The fight scenes were really inept, but some of the comic interludes worked pretty well, and I liked the fact that the two heroes were total weenies who'd scream like girls when the vamps attacked them. The movie maintains a consistently light tone and doesn't take itself too seriously. You'd be surprised how rare that is in a micro-budget horror flick.

Well, tomorrow truly is the last day. Any picks on which movies might or should win the festival's awards? -- Kristian Lin

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