Written, directed by and starring Austin-based filmmaker David Zellner, Goliath tells the story of a loser of a man (Zellner) whose dead-end job is going from bad to worse and whose love life is an even bigger failure than that. As he sinks deeper into a depression while coming to terms with his unwanted divorce, he starts to fly off the handle when he tries to find the one good thing that survived his marriage: his missing cat, Goliath. This movie as been getting some serious praise from the who's who of the film festival circuit, but for the life of me I can't understand why. Zellner and his co-star (and other half of his filmmaking team), brother Nathan, say they were trying to challenge preconceived notions (Nathan plays a sex offender who is targeted in a weird way by David's character) and explore the use of silence -- and oh how they do that. The result, however, is kind of a weird little film with slow pacing, an increasingly and uncomfortably unsympathetic main character, and little interest. I'm sure the real art film geeks have a reason why they think it's so brilliant, but it went over my head. I guess that's what happens when you get suckered in by a cool movie poster.
Winner of Cinevegas's Dramatic Audience Award, Visioneers is a peculiar, black little ditty about George Washington Winsterhammerman (Zach Galifianakis) -- descendant of the original GW and inhabitant of an alternate future reality in which his coworkers start reacting to their indentured white-collar slavery by exploding. George's wife (Judy Greer) has bought whole-hog into the mindless, suburban, corporate-controlled way of life, his brother (James LeGros) is fighting against it by pole-vaulting, and George is becoming increasingly alarmed to notice his first pre-explosion symptom in himself. Visioneers is a pseudo-absurdist commentary on corporate politics and fatuous American living at their worst -- two things that can be quite fun to watch. But even though writer Brandon Drake and director Jared Drake are clearly influenced by greats like Waiting for Godot, 1984, Brave New World and Rhinoceros, the result just can't quite match up to the angst of the dystopic masters of the last century. The tone of Visioneers is almost too subtle, so the valiant attempts at follow-through come off more heavy-handed and the tone seems somewhat flat. An A for effort, but I doubt this one is going to get off the ground.
Gael Garcia Bernal's directorial debut isn't really much of a movie -- and yet, it's entertaining from start to finish. The multi-faceted Bernal (Y tu mama tambien, Babel) plays rich kid Cristobal. He and his sister are home alone and decide to throw a party while the house workers (including his childhood friend) tend to their duties. The result is an exploration of social classes in Mexico. Bit by bit, the true story of Cristobal's parents and their absence is explained -- they are "crooks," as he puts it. There isn't a whole lot of plot to Deficit. Instead, Bernal simply invites you into this situation as an observer. Bernal's talents shine through as actor and director, demonstrating glimpses of brilliance and a most promising future.
Finally Lillian and Dan
Some of the critics I spoke with said they weren't into this one from the start. For me, I was with it to an extent until the third act, where it really just got to be too much. Much like Big Heart City, this is a film solely for those interested in avant-garde cinema. Dialogue is very sparse and there isn't much action. I do like the idea of watching a relationship form more organically rather than with snappy one-liners or a zany plot, but Lillian and Dan are both so completely removed from this planet that watching them interact together (especially in the final scenes) is about as exciting as staring at a wall. It's difficult to muster chemistry under such circumstances, but at a certain point you just have to ask yourself, do I really even care?
Actor Mark Webber's directorial debut is an exercise in storytelling that attempts to meld of a series of short character pieces set in Philadelphia. All of the stories are decent, but none are great. There are moments where the actors are given their chance to shine, such as Rosario Dawson's heart-tugging breakdown sequence, but other castmembers are given little to do or never really explored at all. By the film's end, the stories are loosely connected and a message about national health care is not-so-subtly shoved down the audience's throat. What could have been a nice character piece with the proper ending winds up feeling pretentious and overtly self-important.
Sonic Youth: Sleeping Nights Awake
Michael Albright's Sonic Youth documentary has a highly original concept -- let the fans shoot the movie. In the summer of 2006, Albright gave brief instruction to seven high school students in Reno, NV and then set them loose to shoot a Sonic Youth show and interview the band. The resulting footage was then edited into the 84-minute feature we have here. What winds up is a mixed bag that should entertain Sonic Youth fans but will probably serve as little more than an interesting obscurity for anyone else.