Saturday, October 10, 2009

Indie Memphis Daily: Saturday Guide

Posted By on Sat, Oct 10, 2009 at 12:01 AM

Picks of the Day: Pontypool (midnight) and Zombie Girl: The Movie (12:30 p.m.)

A scene from Pontypool
  • A scene from Pontypool
Two zombie-inflected pictures are highlights on this year’s Indie Memphis line-up: The fictional thriller Pontypool and the documentary Zombie Girl: The Movie.

Pontypool is perfect for its midnight movie time slot. The film is a claustrophobic tour de force, one of the best films to screen in Memphis this year. Set in the titular small town in Ontario, Pontypool premises a talk-radio station as the hub for a strange news day that begins with reports of a hostage situation and evolves into what could be a zombie-type event.

The film is set entirely in the radio station, and as bizarre and terrifying calls come in throughout the morning, the characters register a confusion and fear that seems palpably real-world. (Stephen McHattie is magnificent as the on-air host Grant Mazzy, and Lisa Houle is heartbreakingly good as the show producer Sydney Briar.) With its insular vision and reimagining of the zombie trope of undead spread, the film is brilliant to the end, when its opening utterances come flooding back into your mind. Pontypool is something like The War of the Worlds as if imagined by Arthur Miller.

Zombie Girl
  • Zombie Girl
Zombie Girl: The Movie is more straightforward and certainly a sweeter, cheerier imbibe than Pontypool. The documentary introduces us to Emily Hagins, a 6th grader in Austin, Texas — where else could this happen? — Who instigates a fairly mature amateur film production with her zombie-horror Pathogen. Zombie Girl is essentially a making-of doc, but it doesn’t require you to have seen the movie it's about. The star here is Hagins, a super-sweet, precocious kid who fell in geek with Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and was inspired to try her own hand at filmmaking.

In chronicling the arduous, physically draining year-plus of shooting, editing, and financing the film, the relationship between Emily and her mother, Megan, comes into focus. Zombie Girl becomes as much about parenting and the budding independence of children as anything. This is a movie to take your own kids to. — Greg Akers

Pontypool trailer:

Zombie Girl trailer:

Feature Pick: The American Astronaut (10 p.m.)

Cory McAbee’s screened his latest film, Stingray Sam, last night, and tonight Memphis audiences get to experience his previous film, The American Astronaut. Astronaut came out in 2001 to plenty of notice, showing at Sundance and the Toronto Film Festival and winning the Special Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature at the Florida Film Festival. Like in Stingray Sam, McAbee stars, playing Samuel Curtis, a space journeyman who encounters all kinds of oddities and misfits during his “Homeric” travails. The film’s a sci-fi rock musical, naturally. I’ve only seen the trailer, but it looks quite compelling, evoking David Lynch’s early black-and-white work. McAbee is scheduled to attend. — Akers


Documentary Pick: Strongman (4:30 p.m.)

The hit documentary It Might Get Loud, currently playing in Memphis at Ridgeway Four, is interesting in part because of its entirely fabricated premise — putting three celebrity guitarists in a room and recording what happens. Strongman, directed by Zachary Levy and screening today at Indie Memphis, is interesting in part because it is one of the most assiduously un-self-involved documentaries seen in quite some time. It has long been acknowledged (and in some movements, fought against) that all documentary subjects are affected by the presence of the camera. Strongman appears to be of the “Direct Cinema” school of thought, where the influence of the filmmaker on the subject is minimized as drastically as possible, toward the point of pure objectivity.

Strongman shows us Stanley “Stanless Steel” Pleskun, a New Jersey showman and entertainer who performs impressive feats of strength such as lifting a 10,000-pound truck with his legs. And though he can still bend a penny with his bare hands (and says he’s the only person in the world who can do so), the bloody gashes left after demonstrating such an accomplishment are symbolic of the toll time is taking on the man.

Pleskun is a riveting figure and as worthy of a film as any of us regular folk are. He laughs at The Honeymooners, likes to think of himself as a good person, has a sweet relationship with his wife, and has emotional ups and downs like anybody. Well, okay, he can also eat a stack of cobs of corn and pick up massively heavy weights with his fingers, so maybe he’s got a little extra photogenic oomph than the rest of us.

Strongman won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival. It is highly recommended. Levy is scheduled to attend the screening. — Akers

Local Pick: Music Video Showcase (7:30 p.m.)
Live From Memphis' annual Music Video Showcase — which features music videos either of local bands or by local filmmakers — has become one of the mainstays of Indie Memphis. This year's version boasts more than 20 videos. Among the musicians featured are 8Ball, Juicy J, Snowglobe, and Skillet. — Chris Herrington

Shorts Pick: Stay True Darling and Open Your Eyes (2:15 p.m.)

Stay True Darling
  • Stay True Darling

A struggling actress trying to make it New York with a husband and daughter home in Iowa daydreams about stardom between daytime auditions and her night job at a diner in the impressively shot, widescreen short Stay True Darling. Director James Morrison, who co-wrote with Memphis native Joshua Goolsby, makes what feels like a personal film about the struggles and tensions of being an aspiring artist while skirting autobiography. And it makes terrific use of Wynn Stewart singing "Long Black Limousine."

Stay True Darling shows as part of the "Shorts #2" program, which also includes another well-executed film in Open Your Eyes, a simple but very effective short about a breast cancer survivor dealing with the aftermath at a bridal shower, smartly cut with flashbacks to the period surrounding her diagnosis and treatment — Herrington

Wildcard Picks:

Memphis Music at SXSW (3:15 p.m., Brooks Museum of Art)
Originally scheduled to screen in-between Elvis and Lebowski at the Shell, a rainout has moved this local music doc by Clayton Hurley indoors. The hour-long film documents — with performances and artist interviews — the "Six Degrees of Memphis" showcases at the Austin's South by Southwest Music Festival in 2008. Performers include Snowglobe, Amy LaVere, the North Mississippi Allstars, and Jump Back Jake. This screening is free. — Herrington

It Was Great, But I Was Ready to Come Home (noon)
Joe Swanberg may be the man of the hour at Indie Memphis this year, but his wife Kris Swanberg makes a splash here with her own debut feature. She co-stars in this intimate story about a young woman who attempts to get over a busted relationship by taking a trip to Costa Rica with a friend. The Costa Rica to Chicago locations are memorable, but It Was Great… is most notable for its strong, subtle feel for both the intimacy and limitations of friendship. And what seems at first like a home-video aesthetic emerges as a thoughtfully shot film with cinematography that makes it clear whose story this is. Swanberg will be in attendance. — Herrington


Billy Was a Deaf Kid (2 p.m.)
Although there is a character named Billy and he really is deaf, the title of this film is misleading: The plot truly centers on the relationship between Billy’s brother Archie, and Sophie, the object of Archie’s earnest, albeit juvenile, affection. The film synopsis calls it “the classic, I hate your guts, no wait, I like you, my brother is deaf, let’s ride a couch down the street, love story.” Fortunately, this too is misleading: Billy Was a Deaf Kid is actually a much more honest exploration of a young, restless relationship than the quirky-for-quirkiness’- sake blurb suggests. This isn’t another zany, twee love story. There is more at stake here, and the longer the scene, the more uneasiness comes to the fore. However subtly displaced the tensions and struggles are, the film never lets you dismiss them entirely. — Hannah Sayle


Wheedle's Groove (5:15 p.m.)
A documentary on the Seattle soul music scene. Chris Davis breaks it down here.

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