The Dallas Movie Screening Group

This is the homepage of the Dallas Movie Screening Group. To join our mailing list you must sign up at our group page on Yahoo. You will then be connected to receive notices on how to find passes to the local screenings in the DFW area. It's up to you to pickup or sign up for passes. You can also barter, trade or just giveaway passes you don't want, need or share with other members of the group. Please read the instructions on the Yahoo page very carefully before posting. This group is closely moderated so that your mail box is not full of spam or other unnecessary mail. We appreciate everyone's consideration and cooperation.

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Thursday, July 23, 2020

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets

**** (out of ****)

It isn’t even remotely clear what Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is. The film comes from veteran sibling documentarians Bill (IV) and Turner Ross, and it depicts the final operational night of a Las Vegas dive bar, as patrons and at least two members of staff gather to commemorate it, commiserate about their shared experiences, and drink away the night of the 2016 election. It should be noted that the said pending election barely factors into the proceedings here, and even though there is a television in the place, it’s always tuned into something else (sometimes to the point of self-parody). Nevertheless, one truth gotten to by the Rosses is the sense of casual anxiety about what is to come. Everyone present has feelings about it, and only a handful actually voice those feelings.

It wouldn’t matter to the Rosses anyway, because this is no ordinary documentary. Sometimes they keep their camera on the subject who is talking. At other times, they focus their camera on someone else, if that other person is behaving in a more interesting way than the speaker. Even other times, the directors keep going back to that television screen, on which might be a cruise ship advertisement or the regularly scheduled news or an episode of a soap opera or even, in a truly amazing moment, Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (just as the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” plays on the overhead speaker in the bar, which is every bit as strange and amusing a juxtaposition as it sounds).

As for those subjects, they are, indeed, a motley bunch. There are the two bartenders, Marc and Shay. The former is something of a musician, serenading the bar, called the Roaring 20’s Cocktail Lounge, whenever he feels like he has music to share (and watching out for the binge drinkers of the group, such as one man who really needs to be at work right now). The latter, having been given the night shift, has more of a hardline approach to what happens in her bar (and an eye on her teenage son, who hangs with friends outside talking about how much plutonium is necessary to affect the balance of the earth). Present all day in the bar is faithful customer Michael, once a promising actor who failed and then became an alcoholic (At least it was in that order, he opines).

There is Bruce, a veteran suffering from deep-seated posttraumatic stress from his time in the Vietnam War, who believes that the current election will end in a truncated Presidency – either by impeachment or assassination. There is Pam, who arrives to belch freely, to flash her fellow patrons, to mourn the loss of her husband, and to wish a fellow patron, who lost his son, the best of luck in life. There are others here, too, all of them memorable characters who have seen better days than the one that has them gathering, on the last night the 20’s will be open, to celebrate their time together over many years. The film just has one catch: Most of it was staged by the Rosses.

The bar is located in New Orleans, and it is still in service – or was, at least, at the time of filming, though it is depressing to think of what its patronage looks like during the current crisis. The “subjects” of the story are all professional actors of some sort: Michael is Michael Martin, who has had more than a dozen roles professionally within the last 20 years, and Shay is Shay Walker, who recently appeared in Benh Zeitlin’s Wendy (These are only two examples, and even though I cannot really find evidence of it, Bruce and Pam both look vaguely familiar to these eyes). One would have to assume, with the involvement of professional actors playing patrons of a dying bar, itself played by a still-operating one, that the events are fictional. The question is whether that matters at all.

It will to some who prefer binary, explicable, and purist definitions of “narrative” and “documentary.” These things may not be happening in the moment, but it doesn’t mean that they have never happened in some other dive bar that was really closing, coincidentally on the night when this movie takes place. These conversations may have been workshopped, rehearsed, and delivered under controlled circumstances, but their naturalism, easygoing flow, and on-the-fly bouquet would simply mean that the actors are truly gifted at pulling off what the Rosses asked of them. These ideas might have been born, not out of the wild imaginations of its subject, but from the minds of its makers.

That doesn’t make them any less profound, timely, urgent, and warmly, distinctively human. The cumulative impact of Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is enormous – particularly after a second viewing that calls more attention to the seams of its fictional bearings and, thus, more attention to the Rosses’ management of tone, performance, and even smaller things like the astonishing soundtrack that covers the range of old favorites to current chart-toppers. Honestly, a review would only do certain justice to the pleasures of this deeply unusual and instantly unforgettable work that mixes sociological essay, improvisational drama, absolute realism, and touches of magic here and there. I haven’t seen anything like it, and you won’t have seen anything like it, either.
(Review by Joel Copling)

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Rebuilding Paradise

Director: Ron Howard Studio: National Geographic Films

Review: Rebuilding Paradise

The film was originally slated to be released during the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year, but it was heavily cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Though, the film did have its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer, under their own production company Imagine Entertainment, decided to step up their game to craft a subtle documentary film that deeply explains the real-life stories and the events of the 2018 California wildfires being occurred in Paradise, California.

Throughout the film, Howard has assembled his team to search for stories from the victims of the 2018 wildfires in parts of California, including the little town called Paradise, CA. They have put all the edits, interviews, and footages of the events before and after the wildfire into one 90-minute featurette that impacted the lives and experiences of the people who oversaw the fiery hazards in parts of the forest regions of Paradise.

Compared to any environmental documentaries, both film and television, Howard knows how wildfires became the center of humanity concerns to those who have studied the weather hazards affecting the community and the life-threatening causes that have torn the town and people’s hearts apart from the public. Howard’s team, the town’s community, and the firefighting departments understand how people need to survive the whole mess to rebuild the town and their homes in order to keep everyone safe and healthy afterwards.

Though, the only thing that is missing from the documentary feature is the narration for this subtle story that didn’t explain the details, the tragedy, the calamity, and the reasons why the wildfires are responsible for putting the town in danger. Though, it’s not some cold-eye feature film, it’s just how the film brings the concerns to several parts of the country in regards of the fiery hazards, similar like the Tornado Alley, Hurricane Katrina, and other dangerous weathery parts of the world that threaten the people and the cities nearby. And also, the COVID-19 pandemic which gives the similar structure to the film itself.

Also appearing in the film, at one point, is the fabled activist Erin Brockovich who shows up to assist the people in helping the town to its rightful glory during the town’s meetings about rebuilding Paradise.

Rebuilding Paradise is a good documentary 90-minute film. Ron Howard really knows the ways of putting everything together in one big, wonderous show-and-tell session that is good for not only the audiences, but also great for firefighters, police officers, teachers, and the environmental communities around the city and state. I got to say, this feature looks pretty interesting and very sentimental to watch when you’re studying the weathery, catastrophic events happening to the public that hold their breath into the fresh air. Just watch it and you’ll be shockingly amused and filled with environmental concerns on how the film brings the charity support for the people in Paradise.

(Review by Henry Pham)

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The Rental

(Review by Chase Lee)

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(Review by Chase Lee)

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Friday, July 17, 2020

Blessed Child

*** (out of ****)

The question of objectivity for a documentarian is dismissed almost immediately in Blessed Child, a brief but affecting account of a young woman’s escape from the cult that, in part, was responsible for her being on this earth. The cult in question is the Unification Church, created in 1954 by Moon Sun Myung, a Korean-born Christian convert. The story goes that Moon was visited by Jesus, who asked the young man (16 at the time) to finish the work he left upon crucifixion. That meant, of course, that Moon was to gather followers en masse. The group marriages, sometimes unifying pairs of people by the dozens, came later on. That’s where director Cara Jones’ story begins.

It means that this documentary is the definition of personal, and there are times when the movie reminds of a therapy in the way Jones directly confronts her troubled past, whether through interviews or visiting the church while a wedding takes place. Jones never anticipated that she would find herself in the position depicted in the film’s framing device. Years after her own marriage fell apart, she is taking measures to ensure that having a family is not out of her grasp – freezing eggs until she settle down with the right partner. The rest of Jones’ movie is devoted to telling her story, as well as that of the church, in three parts. This isn’t the most adventurous route, but it does pay dividends.

When it comes to the church itself, that story makes up the film’s second segment, and if there is one shortcoming in this documentary, it’s that Jones doesn’t go much further than detailing what the first paragraph review already did. The extra tidbits touch upon the church’s move to Tarrytown, New York, and Moon’s various scandals, from a tax fraud case to infidelity. Nothing of real insight comes from this part of the film, though that might be because of Jones’ real intentions. Much more important to the director and us is the story of how her family – father Farley, mother Betsy, and brothers Bow, Matt, Harvet, and Farley Jr. (those latter two not featured in the documentary in any meaningful way) – came to be in the church.

The answer to that lies with her father, who had survived a childhood of increasing disappointment and fallen in with the church’s theology. Moon was a father figure to him when he had no other people, and one of the many complicated and uncomfortable truths confronted by Jones in this documentary is the fact that her parents are still members of the church. That is especially complicated when it comes to Bow, the director’s brother, who realized early in life that he was gay. Sexuality that deviated in any direction from a traditional view was (and still is) firmly outlawed, and so Bow’s only recourse was to attend a conversion therapy event hosted by the church. He remains unhappy with his lot.

We also learn about how Jones herself became disillusioned with the church. It was around the time of her first marriage, which happened early enough that she went from the ceremony to college. Her then-husband, meanwhile, went off to do ministry work for the church, much like Betsy was absent for the first two years of her daughter’s life. This left the young newlywed to a college experience that followed years with no socialization at all. It led to parties and infidelity of her own, and by the time the scandals surrounding “Reverend Moon” (as he was known by family and followers) were unveiled, the prospect of remaining was, by then, unrealistic and toxic.

Jones recounts all this in only 73 minutes – minus credits – which means that she must cut to the quick with efficiency and without wasted time. It does mean that much of the record feels rushed and a bit underdeveloped as a historical account, which is not insignificant when it comes to analyzing this film as a document. Where it overcomes that disappointment, though – as well as its rudimentary style and approach – is in its status as an emotional release for Jones herself. That’s where Blessed Child gets its power. Jones has left that life behind, but she still has ties – personal and familial – to a controversial and phenomenally awkward past. Some of those are going to be impossible to sever.
(Review by Joel Copling)

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