33rd Houston International Film Festival


April 7-16, 2000


Billed as the only true independent film festival in the United States (they say they only accept films that are made by independents and do not have a distributor), this year's 33rd film festival offered a wide variety of indies, foreign films and short films. The producer of the festival claims to have made discoveries of some of the great directors of the our times. He even brought up that the 1972 Grand Prize went to a short film called Ramblin by a young film student named Steven Spielburg. Other past participants in the festival included George Lucas, Oliver Stone, David Lynch, Ridley Scott, John Sayles and the Cohn brothers.

Although they claim that they are the only true independent film festival, that doesn't mean that they only screen independents. Their first offering on Friday was the Omar Epps film Love and Basketball while they also screened the movie Sonic Impact. Over 500 films were sent in as entries but only 45 were choosen for competition. Apparently these Hollywood films weren't included.

Films Reviewed

Spring Forward
ABCD
The Wedding Cow
Yana's Friends
Across the Line
Happy Family Plan
Pila Balde


Short Films Reviewed

Boundaries
20 min.
Comedy
Grade=A-
A lady takes a day trip to Tiajuana only to loose her papers and denied reentry. Even worse, she attracts the attention of a Trombone player who insistently follows her around hitting her on the head with the slide. He is relentless. He doesn't sleep. He follows her everywhere. She eventually makes it home and suffers years of this torment. This is an hysterically funny and inventive film.

The Old Man and the Sea
20 min.
Animated drama of Hemmingway's classic
Grade= A+
Academy Award winner for best animated short film. The award was justified. This film is literally like a moving painting. Filmed painted in pastel oils in I-Max with motion control computer technology. This is an unforgettable film that is literally the best short animated film I have ever seen.


Freakshow
9 min.
Horror
Grade=B-
On Coney Island, two children are denied entrance into a freak show by 'Mr. Fingers'. They sneak show and learn the lesson that curiosity killed the cat and end up 'one of them'. The best thing about this film is the performance of Mr. Fingers.

I was a Teenage Intellectual
17 min.
Parody
Grade=A-
German with English Subtitles
A slack witted German teenager only wants to watch his favorite Hollywood movies and eat junk food with his equally slackwitted girlfriend. Unwittingly, he is attacked in a public park by a group of intelliectuals. After fending them off with video tapes and junk food, he is bitten by the group's leading intellectual. Over the course of the next few days, he begins to notice that he is changing. He doesn't want to watch his favorite TV shows. He is attracted to Kant. Finally, he is fully transformed into a true intellectual. He ventures to the intellectual's hangout to become one of them. There, his girlfriend rescues him and they battle the intellectuals to the death. A TV remote is a merciless weapon against their kind.
This is an very funny parody of the old 50s horror movies. It works in vertually any language. However, the main problem is the very poor quality of the film stock and color mix. It should be refilmed

The Kiss
5 min.
Drama
Grade=C-

Video. An adaptation from the 'kiss' scene of Metropolis, this is a musical version where a boy and a girl meet and kiss. And that's it. Not very entertaining or inspired. For some reason this won the Gold Award for Student Film.

Little Cuba
20 min.
Drama
Grade=B+
Two American students are fishing in the Florida Gulf. They suffer engine trouble and begin to drift. They eventually find two Cuban refugees on a raft and pick them. However, they are not ordinary refugees, they are anti-castro revolutionairies and one of them is wounded. They are confronted by a Cuban patrol boat but escape. They then must face a delima. They must decide if they are going to turn the Cubans over to the American authorities. The result would be the deportation of the Cubans and their almost certain execution at the hands of the Communists.

Little Go Beep
8min.
Warner Brothers Cartoon
Grade=A-
This is the story of why Wyle E. Coyote chases the Roadrunner, originating from their childhood. Good humor.

Louie the Fly
4 min.
Claymation animated comedy
Grade=B+
This is a very short film of a fly telling his side of being on the bottom rung of the food chain. He eats shit, only shit and when its French cooking is merde. Funny, but very crude in its execution.

The Memory Tax
30 min.
Science fiction
Grade=B+
A set of teenage super-geniuses in the future work for a secret corporation research lab. Desperate for a sense of belonging, a girl named Tax discovers her mother is a rogue geneticist who have been mutilated by the corporation. The underlying theme is very old in science fiction and is the standard anti-corporate left-wing dogma.

The Other Woman
19 min.
Drama
Grade=B
While dumping an old refrigerator over a ravin, a man discovers a female manakin and brings it home as a gift for his daughter's birthday. During the night it comes to life and has a suprising effect on mother and daughter. Interesting and well executed.

Paco's Two Bean Double Frozen Margarita
19 min.
Comedy
Grade= B+
An American in Baja Mexico is burning his girl friend's possession after she has dumped him. He stops in at a local catina and begins swigging down the house specialty drink: Paco's Two Bean Double Frozen Margarita. He quickly becomes drunk and makes a spectical of himself. He wakes up in a bathtub full of ice to discover that someone has sugically removed one of his kidneys to sell for transplant. This is at times hysterically funny and well put together. Winner of the Silver Award for Comedy Short.

Protest
3 min. 45 sec.
Commercial
Grade=C+
This is a very professionally made commercial showing elephants jumping off skyscrapers and asks what will we do when the last elephant is dead. Expect to see it on television soon.

Stargeeks
25 min.
Comedy
Grade=A-
Harry and Chris are Star Wars fanatics who just got free tickets to the opening of Star Wars Episode One. However, Harry accidently makes a date for the same time beforehand and must make a choice. Meanwhile, he is confronted by Star Trek fanatics and by his secret past as a trekkie. Outrageously funny and original with an inside knowledge of fandom.

You Never Know
11 min.
Science fiction/comedy
Grade=B
German with English subtitles
Tom and Jerry are on their way home from a party and in their conversation about supernatural phenomena we discover Tom is a believer and Jerry the is the pessimist. They pass a stange telephone booth where Jerry discovers he really should have been a believer. Funny, but not that interesting

Smallest of the Three
16 min.
Drama
Grade=C+
Three girl cousins spend every day after school playing a dressup acting game in their back yard next to the train tracks. They meet a boy who witnesses their act everyday on the train. Quite frankly, I found this to be nonsensical and pretencious.

12 X 12
16 min.
Drama
Grade= B-
A political prisoner spends nine months in solitary eventually making friends with a cockroach. You never learn why he is in jail or what they want from him. Quite frankly this is intellectual pretenciousness that was not particularly origin.

Bad Dog
31 min.
Comedy
Grade= A-
A loser dog walker must make some quick money in order to keep from being evicted so he takes a job dog sitting for a weekend. Unfortunately, the dog dies. He has the dog freeze dried and goes in search of a lookalike to replace it. Extraordinarily funny and original.

Bella! Bella! Bella!
16 min.
Comedy
Grade= B+
Down on the Tex-Mex border, Enrique has lost his wits concerned about his money problems. He cannot afford a horse for his daughter's birthday. When his wife tells him he can make money from his writing he goes into a rage of self criticism. Meanwhile, his daughter finds a collection of his short stories he wrote as a teenage. They are told in film as they are being read. They are highly imaginative and funny.

Clara
27 min.
Drama
Grade= A-
Clara, a German war bride lives on a ranch in southwest Utah in 1949 after her marriage breaks up. She is happy living with her mother-in-law but she is confronted by her brother-in-law who wants her gone from the house. When she learns that he is a bomber pilot who bombed Dresden where her family was killed, they both must face how the war affected them as well as the future as a a-bomb test goes off nearby. Very professionally made with great performances. Very high quality.

The Men's Room
8 min.
Comedy
Grade= B
A woman sneaks into the men's room because there is a long line at the ladies and she is desperate. There she encounters the lone male occupant who none to pleased to find the male inner sanctum invaded. Moderately humorous.

Mommie, There's a Monster in My Bed
18 min.
Drama
Grade= D
The story of a young girl of a country family in France who must suffer the horror of her incestuous father. The dubbing was extremely poor and the story confusing from the beginning. Overall it was pretentious crap.

Turbans
28 min.
Drama
Grade= B
Based on the filmmaker's grandmother's diaries, this is the story of an asian Indian sikh family in an Oregan lumber town in 1918. The Sikhs hold that the male hair is sacred and must be covered with a turban and never cut. The father is faced with the choice of keeping his sons in turbans or cutting their hair so that they can assimilate. Interesting, but overly melodramatic and too slow.

The Velvet Club
13 min.
Drama
Grade= C+
A musical drama of one night in a swank cabaret. A fading dancer must face reality that she is never going to marry one of the patrons who is her prince charming when she finds out he is engaged to another woman. Quite frankly, this was pretty dull.

Vinnie and Angela's Beauty Parlor and Funeral Parlor
14 min.
Grade= B
The local mafia boss Big Tony wants Vinnie and Angela to prepare the body of his sister who died in a skiing accident. Tony gives them a photo of him and his two sisters. One of whom is a tramp and one who is a nun. They make a special effort to make her presentable for an open casket funeral. Unfortunately they make her look like the wrong sister. Humorous but also bit crude.


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