Andrew Bird: Fever Year — 5:30 p.m. April 13 @ Lansing Public Media Center
By DAVID BARKER
It is clear from the beginning of ”Andrew Bird: Fever Year” that director Xan Aranda is a fan of musician Andrew Bird. At the very least he is captivated by Bird’s style of looping, whimsical music. Nearly the first six minutes are dedicated to nothing but Bird performing.
Then, after a three-minute narrative interlude, the viewer is treated to another six or seven minutes of Bird performing. Aranda’s documentary is everything a fan of Bird could want.
Bird is represented as an eclectic individual who plays a highly stylized form of music, which isn’t particularly revealing. The title refers to a year of touring where Bird was ill for most of the time, but his fever plays little role in the movie.
To be certain, there is a feverish quality to the music. And, as a documentary, it probably casts actual flu-like symptoms far more accurately than standard Hollywood fare. Still, the movie seems as if it wants the sickness to build to a meaningful climax that never comes. Aranda tries to use fever as a way to talk about endurance and the struggle of the creative process, but never quite gets there.
This is not to say that Bird is not interesting or that the movie is not well shot — they are. “Fever Year” simply lacks depth, and that keeps viewers from ever getting the sense they are seeing an uncaged Bird. His responses seem as if they are part of the performance.
As an ode to a musician, “Fever Year” functions quite well, but it never gets past “this is an artist, watch and listen to him do artist stuff.” As a piece of art that shows the heart and motivations of a musician, it misses the mark.
Holy Motors — 9 p.m. April 13 @ Old Town Temple Building
By SHAWN PARKER
In a word: mesmerizing. In some additional words: confounding, enthralling, stupefying, aggravating, bewildering. All valid descriptors for Leos Carax’s “Holy Motors,” a two-hour plunge down the celluloid rabbit hole that leaves you shaking your head and gasping for breath.
Through the course of an impossibly long day in Paris, we follow Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) as he is driven to a series of “appointments” via white limousine by his assistant and confidant, Celine (Edith Scob). Before each stop, Oscar dips into an inexhaustible supply of costumes, makeup and prosthetics, transmogrifying into a bizarre series of personas, before stepping out of the limo and into action. We follow him as a panhandling elderly woman, bent with age and despair. As a martial artist and motion-capture actor, who tangles erotically with his co-star. And as the head of a band during a musical number featuring, perhaps, a few too many accordions.
Some “appointments” are mundane but poignant. Some are brief and burst with violence. And we haven’t even touched on the haggard, half-blind wildman who prowls a cemetery, eating flowers and kidnapping Eva Mendes. When his day finally, comes to an end, Oscar slips into one last role as Celine takes their roving special effects studio back to home base.
It is clear Carax is commenting on — and paying tribute to — the power of film, the joy of performance and what it means to watch. This is achieved through teasing homages (cinephiles will smile knowingly at Scob’s familiar green mask) and moments of reflective conversation, such as lamenting the diminishing size of cameras and what happens when there is no longer a “beholder.”
A visually stunning, almost poem-like picture, “Holy Motors” is going to challenge and frustrate a lot of viewers. So dense are the imagery and allusions, the commentary starts to become unclear. But it demands your attention and its rewards are great, particularly the incredible, bravura performance by the chameleon-like Lamant, which is staggering to behold. To paraphrase a tune heard in the film — and whose singer has a small but integral role — you can’t get it out of your head.
Tchoupitoulas — 1 p.m. April 14 @ Michigan Historical Museum
By PAUL WOZNIAK
Like a nonfiction Fellini film set in present day New Orleans, “Tchoupitoulas” is less action than atmosphere, populated by seedy streets and sexy dancers. Filmmakers Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross explore the nightlife of the French Quarter through the eyes of three adolescent brothers (William, Bryan and Kentrell Zanders) as they venture through the drunken crowds and captivating performers. After the brothers miss the final midnight ferry ride off the island, the Zanders and their faithful dog Buttercup keep wandering through the night.
Over the course of the evening, the camera moves like a curious ghost following performers onstage for a song or across the rusted and worn instruments of numerous street bands. Much of the magic comes from the Zanders’ faces, particularly the youngest, William whose eyes glimmer as he marvels at fire breathers and fairy flutists. His older brothers, barely in their teens, never shield his eyes because they are just as transfixed.
The most suspenseful scene comes near the end when the Zanderses sneak aboard a dilapidated riverboat. Somehow, electricity still powers a pristine crystal chandelier, one of the only remainders of the boat's former grandiosity. The rest of their unauthorized tour through dark shadows, past urine-stained, graffiti-covered walls rivals the suspense of any haunted house film.
The Story of Luke – 2 p.m. April 14 @ Lansing Public Media Center
By MARY CUSACK
“The Story of Luke” is a feel-good tale about a special boy whose specialness brings goodness and light to those around him. The plot is familiar, the characters are stereotypical, and the themes are trite, but “Luke” hits that sweet spot of empathy that can be found in even the most jaded individual.
Luke (Lou Taylor Pucci) is an autistic 20-something, abandoned by his mother and raised by his grandparents. After his grandmother dies, Grandpa (Kenneth Welsh) is put in a home and Luke is taken in by his Uncle Paul (Carey Elwes). Luke takes his grandfather’s last words of advice to heart and begins a mission to become a man.
Among the cardboard characters in Luke’s new home are his hollow aunt (Kristin Bauer), a woman so brittle her skin crackles when she frowns, and two teens who have turned familial dysfunction into sullen worldliness. Luke’s mission is to heal this family.
While it would be easy to compare “Luke” to “Forrest Gump,” the latter focused on the epic nature of its protagonist’s influence on the world. Luke’s impact is, appropriately, of indie film proportions; his sphere of influence is on his immediate relations.
The film is elevated by Pucci’s performance as Luke. It takes some time to look past Luke’s goofy appearance and mannerisms, but Pucci’s skill in portraying an autistic person shines as he is subjected to increasingly stressful situations. It is enthralling to watch Luke emerge from his shell and strive for the basics in life: a job, a girl, and a place of his own.
The film veers into silliness when Luke interns at a technology company under the supervision of manic IT nerd Zack, a wacky Seth Green-like character played by, appropriately, Seth Green.
As the plotline develops, Green eventually displays the depth of his character.
But the performance of Elwes, the most famous of the cast, is the weakest, his role having little to do with the movie. Fans of “The Princess Bride” will be disappointed that the former Dread Pirate Roberts now looks like a swollen, aging frat boy.
“The Story of Luke” is an oft-told tale, but with Pucci’s fine performance, it is worth hearing again. It is not be the most groundbreaking film of the festival, but it may be the most emotionally satisfying.
Only the Young- 6:30 p.m. April 14 @ Lansing Public Media Center
By PAUL WOZNIAK
There’s no social agenda or ulterior motive in “Only the Young” — just an honest, sympathetic portrait of contemporary youth. It’s less a documentary than a nonfiction narrative following the lives of three small town teenagers as they navigate evolving friendships, romance and their impending futures after graduation.
Filmmakers Jason Tippet and Elizabeth Mims wisely avoid narrating events or cutting to floating head experts to outline a larger context. They keep the focus on the subtly endearing friendships between Garrison Saenz, Kevin Conway and Skye Elmore.
Saenz and Conway are bright, thin, and socially awkward around girls.
Skateboarding is their passion and comfort, especially in abandoned properties like derelict homes and mini-golf courses around their home of Canyon Country, Calif. They’re also full of apparent contradictions, like evangelizing for their Baptist church while wearing punk rock T-shirts. When Saenz and Elmore start dating, Conway becomes a fifth wheel, especially as he displays similar feelings for her.
Soon, the fledgling lovebirds break up, but remain close friends even as Saenz starts dating a new girl and remains oblivious to his recent ex’s brightly burning torch. The more Elmore reveals to the film crew about her personal life from her estranged, heroin-addicted mother to growing up with her incredible grandparents who struggle to keep their home a safe place for her, the more heartbreaking it becomes to watch Saenz tell her that she’s not as positive as she used to be. It’s difficult not to shout to him, telling him he has no idea what she’s going through.
“Only the Young” is not a fast film, but its subjects are fascinating because they’re so unaware of their own charm. Perfectly placed multi-generational music along with a sparring mixture of film speeds completes the emotional ambiance of every scene. The result is an intimate and engrossing journey that is sure to conjure up your own feelings of joy and regret of the past.