When a person watches 23 films over 9 days, it can be difficult to find the time to write enough about all of them. Also, with over 150 different films to choose from, it is nearly impossible to pick all winners. I have tried to cover the bigger films of the festival this year and getting those reviews out has been a priority. However, I have seen a bunch that kinda fall into this middle ground that when I sit down to write about them, I can’t really find a lot to say… and then I have to rush out to catch another film back in downtown Austin. So, I have encapsulated (if I might borrow a term from my colleague on this site) some thoughts on the more average or somewhat bad films I have seen here in this post just to put the thoughts somewhere.
The Hero is a good film with some solid performances from Sam Elliot, Laura Prepon, Nick Offerman, and Krysten Ritter. It has a sparse and slow feel to it with some beautiful LA locations. The simple story of an old Western star doing voice-over work and languishing about when a cancer diagnosis spurs him into taking more control is emotionally effective and handled with sympathy. It doesn’t quite do anything amazing other than feature Sam Elliot’s incredible baritone. There are some genuine and sweet moments and some stuff that doesn’t quite really work. But, Sam Elliot’s voice, so see it.
David Lynch – The Art Life
This is a super slow and only somewhat interesting documentary about David Lynch’s life as told by Lynch himself that starts very early on and goes right up to the point where he was making Eraserhead. This is really only for big David Lynch fans, and even then, since it takes so long for him to talk about anything relating to film, it is a little hard to keep interest. What is interesting is seeing David Lynch discuss his history with art in general – painting from an early age and following an art path through his adult life. The film features Lynch while he creates paintings and shows off some of his artwork. It is noteworthy for helping to establish Lynch as a pure creative force and not just a weirdo director.
Director Joe Lynch (Knights of Badassdom) brings a lot of energy to this high pace murder-your-coworkers action-horror film with some good acting from Steven Yeun (“The Walking Dead”), Samara Weaving (“Home and Away”), and Steven Brand (The Scorpion King). The story involves a pathogen that makes people give in completely to their id making its way into a quarantined law office in a 19-story building. Yeun’s Derrick Cho was just fired minutes before the outbreak and now he and Weaving’s Melanie have to fight their way up the floors to get to some revenge on the boss at the top. There are some cool action scenes, but the film just kinda falls flat. It could have that Crank level of intensity, but things seem to come a little too easy and the single office building setting doesn’t really allow for enough variety. It is still fun, just not memorable.
Fits and Starts
This is actually quite a good movie with a well-written script and some good performances from Wyatt Cenak and Greta Lee. It is a comedy about two married writers in New York who get invited to an art salon party in Connecticut and have a hard time getting there while simultaneously working out some issues with their marriage. It has a number of laugh-out-loud moments and memorable scenes, but it fails to really do enough to be great. This will do well as a rainy day comedy to take in on Netflix with a sweetheart or a lapdog.
Caroline Dhavernas’ (“Hannibal”) outstanding acting skill just cannot do enough to get this film over. She plays a door-to-door make-up salesperson and highly-functional alcoholic who just kinda meanders through life while living out of a motel room and sleeping with random dudes to sort of feel better about herself each night. The film itself just meanders about, never really introducing major conflict or plot and then just shoves some nonsense into the last 15 minutes and ends abruptly without a conclusion. Something like that can work for a film like The Master, where the character study is so intriguing that it doesn’t need a story, but it doesn’t quite work here. The characters are okay, but nothing really ever happens and one struggles to keep the mind from wandering toward other things.
Some interesting visuals accompany a promising premise about a young girl who finds some internet fame by posting a video of her robbing a late-night convenience store and then tries to ride that new-found popularity to a life with some meaning. The execution ends up being a little directionless and under-written. It is okay and Addison Timlin, who plays the main character brings some nuance to the role that will be captured well in her future work, but it doesn’t really excite or challenge the audience in the way that it seems to think it does. This is a good film for young people who haven’t seen many good films.
Game of Death
This film is Jumanji but with killing instead of anything cool. Kids are partying in a house, they find a weird board game called Game of Death and when they play it they find out that either they kill people or the game makes their heads explode. There is an almost interesting turn when two factions of the teens decide to take the game in opposing directions with one set of players determined to go on a rampage and the other set resigned to the idea that the only moral end is if all the players die. But, that idea isn’t explored at all and that thread closes way too quickly. The film has some fun gore effects, with exploding heads and exposed guts and stuff. But it is over really quickly and isn’t made particularly competently.
Lemon is a terrible awkwardness-based anti-comedy that was a chore to sit through. It has a great cast with Brett Gelman, Judy Greer, Michael Cera, Nia Long, Martin Starr, Rhea Pearlman, and Gillian Jacobs. But, Michael Cera’s is the only character that is almost interesting and he is only in the film for about 25 minutes. The major problem with a film like this is that while a bunch of terrible things are happening to the main character and we are supposed to feel sorry for him, we don’t because he is an unrepentant asshole. So, it just ends up being a series of whatever scenes with nothing funny. It is bad, but there is some good cinematography and lighting. So, a turd in a shiny box, I guess.