Reel Recommendations

In all of my gushing about the writing panels I attended at the Austin Film Festival, I overlooked talking about some of the movies I saw and enjoyed while there.  Of course, AFF is where I encountered THE ARTIST and we all know how that love affair took fire, but there were two other features that stood out to me during my viewing excursions.

STUCK BETWEEN STATIONS tells the story of Casper and Rebecca, former high school classmates who run into one another in their hometown of Minneapolis.  Casper is a soldier on bereavement leave after the death of his father and Rebecca is a graduate student entangled in an unhappy affair with her professor.  Through the course of one night the couple hang out, talk, reveal secrets, and…well, I don’t want to completely spoil it!

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you...

I was curious about the film since it was shot a cheese wheel’s throw away from Wisconsin and, if I’m not mistaken, writer-director Brady Kiernan is a Midwesterner like myself.  Much like BEFORE SUNRISE, STUCK BETWEEN STATIONS is one of those walking-and-talking pictures that lives and dies on the strength of the script and the chemistry of its lead actors.  Fortunately, Sam Rosen and Zoe Lister-Jones deliver the goods ten-fold aided by an intelligent, thoughtful screenplay.  There’s an ease to their rapport and the slow burn of their attraction to one another builds effectively through the course of the film.  I think we can all relate to those late-night conversations with a special someone that we never want to end and STUCK BETWEEN STATIONS captures the magic of those moments beautifully…along with the obstacles faced during the twelve-hour journey.  Kiernan shot the film on the Red camera and the result is gorgeous. (Lookin’ good, Minneapolis!)  If you like your romances simple and smart, I highly recommend this film.  And the good news is that you can now rent it on iTunes or Amazon! (Which is what prompted me to write this post in the first place.)

On the other end of the AFF spectrum was a documentary that took me by surprise.  ECSTASY OF ORDER: THE  TETRIS MASTERS  caught my attention because I’m always curious about people who are intensely obsessed with something, whether it be climbing high wires, taking photos, or playing video games.  I was a fan of the doc THE KING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS so despite the fact that I had never played a single game of Tetris, I figured I’d check out the movie.

My head already hurts.

It chronicles a group of people (mostly guys and a couple of women) who have been playing the game for decades and are now practicing their way to a world championship Tetris tournament.  In the game’s early days, Nintendo held a similar tournament in 1990 and many of the young players who competed in that highly-publicized contest appear in this film.  And it’s the assortment of  the players whom you get to know that make the movie so fascinating.  One person in particular, Thor Aackerlund, comes off as an almost tragic figure when you learn that his victory at the 1990 tournament was fraught with as much angst as satisfaction.

And who knew watching a video game unfold on screen could be interesting?  In the hands of director Adam Cornelius, the audience neophytes like myself got a quick tutorial on the game so that we understood the complexity of the moves being made. And it was all the more fun to watch the film surrounded by seasoned Tetris gamers who “oohed” and “aahed” at the incredibly difficult manuevers being executed by the players.  ECSTASY OF ORDER: THE TETRIS MASTERS is a fun, captivating documentary that is worth checking out whenever it’s available.  I think it’s still traveling the festival circuit, but hopefully it will show up on a viewing device near you.

And, yes, I did download the Tetris app on my iPhone after I saw the film.  (However, with my woefully limited gaming abilities, I won’t be seeing a “max-out” screen in my lifetime.)

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