It’s a Disaster (dir. Todd Berger)
No movie made me laugh more frequently and consistently at this year’s Twin Cities Film Festival than Todd Berger’s anarchic comedy It’s a Disaster. The film tells the story of four couple who meet for Sunday brunch and get too caught up with domestic squabbles and arguments about manners to properly prepare for the apocalypse which is occurring outside their door. Imagine if an atom bomb goes off during an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm and you can easily grasp the concept of this movie. It contains some of the funniest one-liners of the year, mostly courtesy of David Cross, Julia Stiles, and Blaise Miller. Cross especially excels as the newcomer to the group who earnestly tries to be polite despite the increasingly outrageous circumstances.
Unfortunately the laughter starts to wear off about halfway through the movie and the 90-minute running time actually felt too long. The bits by characters played by Jeff Grace, Kevin Brennan, and Rachel Boston get annoying fast and even Cross’s character thread unravels in the last 15 minutes of the film. However, the movie is still worth a look when it comes out on DVD for some easy laughs and charming performances by Cross, Stiles, and several other members of the cast. — REVIEW BY ALEX CARLSON
Dust Up (dir. Ward Roberts)
A fairly reliable litmus test to use, if you are wondering whether you might enjoy Ward Roberts’ Dust Up, is to ask yourself how you feel about the films of Robert Rodriguez. If you enjoy the likes of El Mariachi and From Dusk til Dawn, this Spaghetti-esque Western about a war vet with a dark past named Jack (Aaron Gaffey) protecting a woman, her addict husband and their infant child from an flamboyantly evil drug lord should be right up your alley. But should the hyper-violence of Sin City and Machete be a bit too much for you, the movie can only ever be a fitfully stylish, yet hopelessly cartoonish and juvenile blood-fest. Being torn on the work of Rodriguez, perhaps it is appropriate for me to have mixed feelings on Dust Up as well.
I finally started digging Roberts’ movie when I started viewing it as if it were an homage to the old Australian exploitation flicks of the 1970’s – cheaply made, poorly acted and positively overflowing with gore and moxie. While he doesn’t have the best technology at his disposal, Roberts has lots of fun with the camera, and the energy is infectious. I also got a mild kick out of Jack’s sidekick Mo (Devin Barry), a hipster who dons stereotypical American Indian garb who lives off the land and helps Jack kill baddies. I was less impressed by the film’s over-the-top antagonists, particularly the murderous, monstrous, cannibalistic and slightly pansexual drug lord Buzz. With so many personality traits at his disposal, it’s clear the movie wants Buzz to be both fearsomely unpredictable and outrageously funny. Unfortunately, he is neither. Despite a committed performance from Jeremiah Beckett, Buzz he becomes the source of Dust Up’s clunkiest moments, and an emblem of the movie’s biggest issue: that it would rather throw blood and guts on the wall to see what sticks than tell a story with a modicum of discipline. While that lack of discipline can be sporadically entertaining – the film’s climax is pretty great – it can also be numbing. — REVIEW BY JUSTIN JAGOE
Not Fade Away (dir. David Chase)
While walking out of the screening of Not Fade Away at the Twin Cities Film Festival, my friend turned to me and said “I’ll give you five dollars if you can name one of the characters in that movie.” After much mental strain I had to admit that I couldn’t do it. David Chase of “Sopranos” fame makes his feature film directorial debut feel like he was never able to escape from the medium of television. There are far too many characters, none of which receive the proper arcs, and the film leaves several threads untied. It’s almost as if Chase was hoping to revisit these characters in subsequent episodes that will never air.
I have to agree with Duncan’s assertion that Not Fade Away “fails to contribute anything new, either musically or cinematically.” I also experienced that frustrating experience of trying to peg exactly where I had seen the film’s star John Magaro before. Luckily I remembered it was in the Wal-Mart/Coca-Cola commerical “My Extended Family” from a few years ago. It’s a great commercial and at one minute in length manages to be a better way to spend your time than with a frustratingly unresolved musical drama. — REVIEW BY ALEX CARLSON
Dead Dad (dir. Ken J. Adachi)
I’ve been uncommonly fortunate in my life in the sense that almost all of the family I grew up knowing is still here, on this planet with me. You’d think that would make it somewhat difficult to relate with the three siblings in Ken J. Adachi’s Dead Dad, as they find themselves reunited in mourning following the untimely passing of their father. But I was surprised how strongly I found myself identifying with these individuals – individuals for whom there will always be a mutual love, but have chosen individual life paths that, intentionally or not, caused rifts long-ago in the relationship. Jane (Jenni Melear) and her two brothers Alex (Lucas K. Peterson) and Russ (co-writer Kyle Arrington) find themselves able to bond over fond memories of childhood, and it is almost enough to help them as they try to manage their dad’s affairs. Perhaps inevitably, old feuds start bubbling to the surface: anger toward their dad’s shoddy parenting skills, regret that status as de-facto caretaker has caused Russ to put his own life on hold, and resentment that neither Alex nor Jane were around to help.
I found myself able to identify with these siblings because I they reminded me, with uncanny similarity, of my relationship with my own brothers and sister. As deeply as we love each other, we’ve nonetheless become very different people whose commonalities scarcely extend beyond our genealogy and the childhood we spent together. Dead Dad is less about mortality than about the familial forces capable of bringing together even the most irreconcilable of personalities. What I love most about Adachi’s film is how plausibly he conveys each inter-sibling conflict without making his movie feel overly heightened or soapy. Strongly acted and sentimental in mercifully small doses, his movie is about real people grappling with real issues. It’s hard not to identify with such authenticity. — REVIEW BY JUSTIN JAGOE
Stay tuned for more Twin Cities Film Festival reviews over the next several days.