The Dallas International Film Festival, the largest film fest in the area, is under way through April 14, and as usual the schedule is overstuffed with good choices. Here are five suggestions.
Mud (7:15 p.m. Friday, Angelika Dallas): Austin filmmaker Jeff Nichols established himself as a critics' favorite with his last film, Take Shelter, and now with Mud he should become an audience favorite as well. Starring Matthew McConaughey as a criminal on the lam who befriends two young boys who keep his presence in their small Arkansas community a secret, Mud is, as Nichols has put it, a cross between Mark Twain and Sam Peckinpah. It's Southern novelistic storytelling without being bookish or pretentiously intellectual. Added bonus: It features one of McConaughey's most nuanced performances, keeping up the momentum he started with The Lincoln Lawyer and continued with Magic Mike, Bernie and Killer Joe.
Pit Stop (7:30 p.m. Saturday and 10:15 p.m. Monday, Landmark Magnolia): This quietly compelling drama from director Yen Tan (who was based in Dallas, now in Austin) tells the story of two out gay men in small-town Texas. Thankfully, Tan and co-writer David Lowery don't take the plot where you think; Texas isn't portrayed as some hellish backwater. Instead, the barriers the working-class characters played by Bill Heck and Marcus DeAnda face -- one recently came out to his wife, the other is in the throes of a breakup -- are largely self-imposed. They are animated not by nightmarish homophobia but the restlessness that comes from day-to-day living.
Kon-Tiki (9:30 p.m. Saturday, Landmark Magnolia): In the past couple of years, such films as A Royal Affair, Headhunters and In a Better World showed there was a lot of cinematic life in Scandinavia that had nothing to do with the girl or her tattoo. That continues with Kon-Tiki, a retelling of explorer Thor Heyerdahl's journey across the Pacific on a raft made of balsa wood to try to prove that South Americans settled Polynesia. The film is a crowd-pleaser, winning film-fest audience awards and a nomination in the foreign-language category of this year's Oscars.
Iceberg Slim: A Portrait of a Pimp (9:30 p.m. Monday and 7:15 p.m. Tuesday, Angelika Dallas): Long before there was gangsta rap, there was writer Iceberg Slim, the spiritual forefather to the likes of Ice T and Snoop Dogg. Slim's partially autobiographical 1969 book, Pimp: The Story of My Life, foreshadowed much of the music that would come more than a decade later, for good and for ill. In this documentary, from hip-hop stalwart Jorge Hinojosa (who produced the excellent documentary Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap), a cavalcade of rappers, comedians, musicians and poets -- Ice T, Chris Rock, Henry Rollins, Katt Williams, Quincy Jones and others -- talk about Iceberg's influence.
8 1/2 (5:30 p.m. April 13, Angelika Dallas): If you don't want to take a chance with a new film, you can't go wrong with a classic, as DIFF puts Federico Fellini's black-and-white 1963 film 8 1/2 back on the big screen. Marcello Mastroianni plays a director who becomes obsessed with all the women he has had in his life. It won Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film and Costume Design.
Cary Darling, 817-390-7571