The continuing element of Dances With Films relates to show a diversity of independent films both intrinsically on their own but also with an interesting penchant for showcasing new talent vetted for entry into bigger world movie-making. By restricting the amount of films shown and heavily supporting filmmaker attendance, the registry of this film festival continues to grow and hopefully will become a beacon for buyers, despite a slightly lower quality in this year’s films.
Interestingly, the most anticipated film also was the most divisive in terms of requisite personality. “The Ghastly Love Of Johnny X” pulls hard from everything from Ed Wood to the greaser odes of the 50s to cheesy science fiction to Rock Hudson musicals. The beauty of the film overall rests in its photography using some of the last Plus X film stock (which was slightly overhyped at the premiere screening). The music progression recalls last year’s festival musical “The Dead Inside” [deadCenter 2011] but with less musical expansion. The relatability here in terms of the music is less 50s cool then Broadway sweet in terms of the songs while the score is undeniably rich and vivid. Will Keenan as Johnny X anchors the film for the first half skewing between camp and vicious cool but as soon as the long lost father-undead subplot ventures forth, the movie retreats to pure B territory. Now granted this is the angle from which the homage is based but there was a possibility for more.
“3 Days Of Normal” functions from a similar capacity on the romantic comedy front with great performances, especially from the lead actress, but with a story that closes itself in, in regards to its end progression. The narrative follows a police officer, clumsy by nature but loyal and good-hearted, who doesn’t seem to be interested in the girls in town throwing themselves at him. Enter a gossip-clung celebrity debutante who happens to pass out in her car in rural New Hampshire. What follows is a comedy of situations (including paparazzi pursuit) that plays worn but because of the grounded element of said actress resounds with distinctive charm.
“Fray” works in a similar capacity with an applicable construct in terms of its progression but with a relatable angle that makes it all the more heartbreaking as its progresses. It follows a well meaning Marine back from Afghanistan after an injury leaves him with a gimp leg. This impairs the possibility of him getting work in an already squeezed economy. Slowly but surely, despite his continued perseverance, he can’t seem to get ahead. He is helped along by his teacher-turned-lover (Marisa Costa), who slowly falls in love with him. Costa undeniably anchors the film with such a luminescence which balances the brooding but powerful functionality of Bryan Kaplan’s performance as Justin. The key within here is structure and making sure these relationships pay off in the end without conceding the need to spoon-feed. “Fray” does this beautifully contrasting the dark but brilliantly forest backdrop with a sense of foreboding.
“Into The Wake” tries to approach the scenario “Fray” succeeds in with a bit more of a thriller scenario which is not untoward but plays with a little more ploy that others. A quiet-living biker type with a tattoo-covered exotic girlfriend seems to have everything in play except for some unexplained rage issues which becomes obvious in an abandoned steel mill location that was used more for its cool beauty against the Chicago skyline than anything else. A mysterious phone call draws this would be man away from an idealic (in some circles) life. After sleeping on forest canopies after driving his bike to the middle of nowhere, the progression seems a little lost, like he is looking for trouble without knowing where it is.
“Liars, Fire & Bears” tries to interact within notions of coincidence and morality depending which way the house crumbles. Built as a Las Vegas production, the degradation of sub-urban reality reflects in the functionality of the lead character who is just trying to make ends meet (a continuing subject base this year) but ends up in a compromising position involving kidnapping, home robbery and extortion, among other things. The eventual breakdown of communication functions well in some instances with most situations eventually extending beyond belief to a more well-toned ending.
“Disorientation” takes on the Midnight slot in good order while moving away from the more “bad cinema” horror integrations which, while creative, were the stalwart of last year’s intentions. This entry combines the wantonness of “Van Wilder” with a “Waiting” progression: two early entries into the Ryan Reynolds universe. The movie tries warily with varying results but distinctly knows what it is despite a tongue-in-cheek overplay which is more dexterously capture by the resident geek in the picture who ultimately wins over in the “academics win out” category. Eventually, heavy drinking notwithstanding, the lead character finds his true energy (and girl) though, for a movie which bills itself on its extremeness, comes out with a distinct amount of sugar coating.
The key within shorts as opposed to features is provide a texture of broad film-making in a short time blending style and acting with a sense of story. Some of these are meant as simple reels while others are built as a primer to a feature depending on the people involved.
Within Competition Shorts #2, “Crescendo“, follows to reveal the early life of Beethoven and what built him as a person, functioning with a degree of overwrought deniability, especially in the abuse of his mother to rightfully create stakes but the necessary end result feels a little empty. “Ten Dollar Cover” uses a ludicrous premise (with an interesting narrator) to identify the moment of a young person in existential crisis. While funny, ultimately it is a tad dark against the actual reality it justifies. “Breadcrumbs”, which was shot over a weekend up in Monterey, is probably the most functional entry in this block using a backwards “Memento” progression to show the life of a man in reverse but delivers acutely on its premise.
Fusion Shorts #1, by comparison, plays in many ways more conventional in its structure but with better results. “Empty” approaches the minimalist, almost stage approach with little fanfare while “Elegy For A Revolutionary” approaches high production values with an element of social consciousness but, oddly enough, not much tension. “The Lift” using a gangster construct masked as a social comedy, wins in many respects because its characters are right on cue yet struck in a paradox backed by great production design standards. However, in terms of simple performance, “Interview Date” works the best because of its wit and personification of double standards while using very simple innuendo that is both innocent and dirty at the same time.
Continuing on, Fusion Shorts #2, moves between incomplete vision and simple but specifically crafted odes on oddity. “Crows” tries to be a metaphorical angle on the notion of protecting one’s own but becomes more of a tribulation on personal structure while “Perceptio“, while beautiful to look at, lacks the structure of a soul despite some interesting skin. “Far” begins the beguine with exceptional directorial strength. While fashioned as a romantic comedy mixed with some science fiction, it takes a little bit to get going but when it materializes towards the end of the dinner scene, its cheesy demeanor takes on an endearing charm that just seems to grow. “Losing Ferguson“, in a similar sort of way, owing much to “Being John Malkovich” understands the oddity of its world while giving it also some grounded reality. With “Ferguson”, it paints the way to a more vivid conclusion with a penchant for thought while still creating a lighthearted, playful and ultimately touching romp.
Dances With Films continues to find interesting and intrinsic films to populate its annual confab. With a new move to the Mann Chinese 6, the action and interaction with the filmmakers is more instantaneous than the previous venue: the closed Sunset 5. While the films were not as intensive as the previous year, the diversity, as compared to other film festivals of its like, is still way above the standard and deserving of praise.