The Indy Film Fest crew has a busy weekend planned.
On Friday, they'll kick off their free short film series, The Nooner, at 12 p.m. at the Earth House, with a program including 2011 winner God of Love (a charming, B&W tale about a modern-day Cupid that took home a prize at Heartland before winning the Oscar) and 2010 winner The New Tenants (shot in the Chelsea Hotel and starring writer David Rakoff and super-detective Vincent D'Inofrio).
But what we're most concerned with here is a triple-header Saturday at The Toby featuring three films nominated for an Academy Award this year. The good folks at the Fest provided screeners ahead of time, so here's our take on all three — and one figures that Chico & Rita will look a heck of a lot better on the big screen than on the tiny one I watched it on, though it looked pretty good even in adulterated form. Single screenings run $5 for IMA members and $9 for the general public; the three-film bulk rate is $12 for members and $20 for outsiders.
3.5 stars (R)
Bullhead jumps back and forth between a crime drama storyline and and a character study. When director Michael R. Roskam focuses on the tragic, brutal life of steroid and hormone dependent cattle farmer Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts), the film is riveting. When he follows the crime drama about a deal between corrupt cattle farmers and the local mafia gone horribly wrong, it's not nearly as good. But Jacky's story is so compelling that it's easy to sit through the other parts. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In Dutch and French with English subtitles. 124 minutes. At the Toby at 8 p.m. Saturday. (Ed Johnson-Ott)
Hell and Back Again
4 stars (NR)
Photojournalist Danfung Dennis presents a documentary look at Sergeant Nathan Harris during his time in combat in Afghanistan and back home as he recovers from severe injuries and tries to readjust to life. Dennis' footage shot while embedded in Afghanistan is fascinating, especially the exchanges between the soldiers and the local farmers. The footage of Harris back home is even better, as we get to know a distinct personality different from the sort of man you usually see in soldiers-before-and-after-combat features. Insightful and adroitly edited. Don't miss this one. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. 88 minutes. At the Toby at 3 p.m. Saturday. (EJO)
Chico & Rita
2.5 stars (NR)
An animated film from a Spanish team familiar with the Cuban music scene (one of its directors, Fernando Trueba, has directed Buena Vista Social Club-style documentaries on the jazz talent in the country), Chico & Rita enchants on a visual level, its pen and water color-esque backgrounds bustling with life and full of detail during the film's first act in Cuba, then reminding of busy New Yorker covers with a move to NYC. Pity the story — an on-again, off-again love story between pianist Chico and singer Rita set largely in the '40s and '50s — is a disappointment, too invested (albeit knowingly) in pulpy Hollywood cliches of the era (A Star is Born, in particular). Still, the music is also a pleasure, with setpieces involving an out-of-control Chano Pozo and Stravinsky's Ebony Concerto drawing laughs, particularly if the viewer knows a little jazz. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. 94 minutes. At the Toby at 5 p.m. Saturday. (Scott Shoger)