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RiverRun round-up: What’s at Winston-Salem’s 2013 film festival

by Mark Burger

Casting By Film buffs should enjoy Tom Donahue’s appealing documentary, which pays tribute tribute to those often-unsung heroes of film and television: the casting directors. Lynn Stalmaster, Wallis Nicita and Juliet Taylor are profiled, but the primary focus is on Marion Dougherty (1923-2011), who spent some 60 years in the business and left behind an all-star legacy.

Many of those luminaries are on hand to share their memories of Marion, including Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood, Jon Voight, John Travolta, Robert Duvall, Jeff Bridges, Al Pacino, Danny Glover and character actor extraordinaire Ed Lauter, as well as such esteemed filmmakers as Martin Scorsese, Francis Coppola, Arthur Hiller, Paul Mazursky and UNCSA faculty member Peter Bogdanovich.

If the film has an agenda, it’s to put forth the suggestion that casting directors should be entitled to their own Academy Award category. Thus far, it hasn’t happened — and it’s too late for Dougherty, alas — but there’s no mistaking that she and her colleagues consistently displayed a keen eye for talent, even if she initially thought that Gene Hackman would be best suited to playing “big, dumb, gentle guys”(!).

In a sense, moviegoers are still enjoying the fruits of the casting director’s labor, every time they go to the movies.

The Deflowering of Eva van End Provocative (though not inaccurate) title notwithstanding, there are distinct echoes of Todd Solondz in this droll Dutch comedy, directed by Michiel ten Horn and originally titled De Ontmaagding van Eva von End.

Appealing newcomer Vivian Dierickx plays the title role, a bespectacled teenager clearly dissatisfied with her dysfunctional, perennially bickering family, whom she views with a poker-faced disinterest bordering on contempt.

The arrival of a German exchange student (Rafael Gareisen) has an almost instantaneous and profound impact on Eva’s family.

He’s bright, cheerful and attentive — attributes that could hardly be applied to her siblings or parents. Yet he too has his quirks, as they will soon find out.

Djurre de Haan’s bubbly score is the perfect accoutrement to the film’s proceedings, but a surprisingly and alarmingly funereal pace threatens to spoil the fun. Fortunately, it doesn’t, but for a film that runs barely 90 minutes, it sometimes tends to feel longer. (In Danish and German with English subtitles)

The Discoverers Writer/producer/director Justin Schwarz’s debut feature offers a welcome comeback role for Griffin Dunne, perfectly cast as a lovable loser trying desperately to pick up the pieces of his personal and professional life — and having a hell of a time doing so.

We’re in “dysfunctional-family” territory again, as Lewis Birch (Dunne) attempts to juggle an impending (and important) visit to a literary seminar with a visit to his parents, whom he hasn’t seen in years. With his children (Madeleine Martin and Devon Graye, both funny) in tow, he arrives at his parents’ house only to discover his mother dead in her bed and that his uncommunicative father Stanley (Stuart Margolin) has basically closed himself off emotionally.

In a desperate effort to reach his father, Lewis drags the kids on the annual Lewis and Clark re-enactment hike his father attends every year. Needless to say, the trip does not go according to plan, although it does offer Lewis a chance to just maybe reconnect with his father and children.

After an inspired beginning, the film settles down into a pleasant but unremarkable routine for much of the way. The outcome of the story isn’t terribly surprising, although there is compensation in a winning cast that also includes John C. McGinley, Cara Buono, David Rasche, Dreama Walker and Ann Dowd (the latter pair reunited from last year’s Compliance).

Picture Day Writer/director Kate Miles Melville’s coming-of-age comedy/drama seems familiar territory at first glance, but strong performances and an edgy maturity make all the difference.

Tatiana Maslany is excellent as Claire, a prototypical teen rebel who is forced to take her senior year of high school over again. None too happy and perennially restless, she impetuously romances James (Steven McCarthy), a rock ‘n’ roller several years her senior while also befriending Henry (Spencer Van Wyck), a neurotic fellow student who masks his own rebellious streak by being an overachiever.

Maslany and Van Wyck establish an amusing (and on-target) rapport early on, and although McCarthy’s musician turns out to be a manipulative boor (maybe not so surprisingly), he’s not a one-dimensional character either. Given the plethora of raunchy teen comedies in circulation, here’s one that stands far above the norm.

Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself Tom Bean and Luke Poling’s documentary offers a thorough, mostly affectionate, portrait of George Plimpton (1927-2003), the author, adventurer and raconteur who considered himself “a collector of experiences” and was a pioneer in participatory journalism. If he was going to write about football, boxing, stand-up comedy or acting, then he was going to do it himself.

Although he achieved enjoyed a considerable measure of fame throughout his career, Plimpton was dissatisfied that he was considered more of a celebrity than an serious writer. Yet by reveling in those very same celebrity trappings (including some undoubtedly lucrative commercial endorsements), he might have sealed his own fate on that score — but it sure looked like he had fun along the way. Most of the time.

Susie’s Hope Area residents are undoubtedly familiar with the story of Susie, the pitbull-mix puppy who was brutally beaten, burned, and left for dead before being rescued by a Guilford County couple. The story of Susie became national news, particularly when her story inspired a change in state legislation regarding animal cruelty.

Emmanuelle Vaugier and Winston- Salem’s own Burgess Jenkins star as Donna and Roy Lawrence, the young couple at the center of Susie’s tale (no pun intended). Donna had barely recovered from being mauled by a pitbull when she found Susie, and the experience helped her and Roy come to terms with the earlier incident.

This being a tearjerker, the film is occasionally corny but it’s never cloying, and the actors — human and canine alike — bring a palpable sincerity to their performances. Vaugier and Jenkins do nice work establishing Donna and Roy’s at the outset, Andrea Powell lends compassionate support as a family friend, and scene-stealer Susie plays herself. Even the gimmick of filming from the dog’s point-of-view works better than expected.

Filmed entirely on location, essentially where the actual events took place, local audiences will also enjoy seeing familiar landmarks. The film’s gruesome moments are conveyed in fleeting but effective fashion, thus preserving a family-friendly appeal… and it’s giving nothing away to reveal that this story has a happy ending.

This is Martin Bonner Martin Bonner (Paul Eenhoorn) is a volunteer coordinator for an organization that assists ex-cons as they attempt to reintegrate into society. Travis Holloway (Richmond Arquette) is one such ex-con, who comes to depend on Martin as a friend and father figure.

UNCSA School of Filmmaking graduate Chad Hartigan wrote and directed this lowkey but very effective character study about two men who cross paths at a crossroads in both of their lives and unexpectedly fill an emotional need in one another.

This eloquent story is friendship is given fine performances in the pivotal roles by Arquette (he of the famous family) and the Australian-born Eenhoorn, who do full justice to Hartigan’s subtle but observant script. The emotions in the film are conveyed as much by the characters’ physical actions and motions as by their words.

Virtually Heroes There has never been a good movie based on a video game, but this inspired, funny farce from executive producer Roger Corman proves that there can be a good one about a video game.

Books (Robert Baker) and Nova (Brent Chase) are the brawny, quick-triggered heroes of a Vietnam War video game, spending their time shooting and blowing up bad guys— earning bonus points along the way, of course. They know they’re only characters in a game and that sometimes they’ll get killed, but eventually they’ll be back in action.

In customary Corman fashion, he has provided a low-budget springboard for firsttime feature director CJ Echternkamp and writer Matt Yamashita, who make extensive use of footage from the Corman library for battle footage. Mark Hamill, himself a pop-culture icon, makes a brief but amusing appearance in the “Yoda” role as a wise monk who sees all and knows all. Cult status is likely.

White Reindeer UNCSA School of Filmmaking graduate wrote, edited and directed this bleak, droll Christmas fable that puts a savage spin on the holiday season.

Anna Margaret Hollyman shines as Suzanne, whose strident love for the holiday season hits the first in a series of catastrophic snags when her husband (Nathan Williams) is murdered. Suzanne then learns that he had a secret life on the side, and can’t resist investigating – although it’s a forgone conclusion that it will only put a further damper on her Christmas spirit.

Although uneven at times, the film is noteworthy for Clark’s audacious, go-forbroke attitude and Hollyman’s star-making performance as the endlessly put-upon heroine desperately trying to keep her Christmas spirit — and her sanity.

For the full RiverRun screening schedule, advance tickets or more information, visit the official festival website: riverrunfilm.com or call 336.724.1502.

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