Indie Memphis: Thursday

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Rosemarie DeWitt in Touchy Feely
  • Rosemarie DeWitt in "Touchy Feely"
Indie Memphis, the four-day multimedia, multisensory extravaganza is upon us. By the time Sunday dies, the festival will have presented 50 feature films, 82 shorts, 13 panels, conversations, and seminars, and 11 parties and social events. Where to begin? What to do?

Though it's Halloween, have no fear. The Memphis Flyer is here to help guide you through the festival. Start by reading the Flyer's cover story on Indie Memphis here. Then check here on Sing All Kinds each day for recommendations on that day's schedule. — Greg Akers

THURSDAY

"Best Bites" Opening Night Reception, 5 p.m., Playhouse on the Square
Featuring food selections from winners of this year's Memphis Flyer "Best of Memphis" poll (shameless plug).

Escape from Tomorrow
  • "Escape from Tomorrow"
Escape from Tomorrow (Randy Moore, 90 min.), 7 p.m., Playhouse on the Square, with live music by John Lowe before and an actor Q&A after the screening
Few sights evoke more middle-class existential dread than that of a family trying to enjoy itself at a theme park. But that image is the linchpin of writer-director Randy Moore's Escape From Tomorrow, which was secretly shot without permits at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

Moore's film begins inauspiciously: Family man Jim (Roy Abramsohn) is fired via telephone while on vacation with his wife and two kids. Suddenly, the tram Jim and his family must ride to reach the Magic Kingdom feels like a train headed somewhere far more sinister — a corporate-sponsored, all-ages concentration camp where bands of bored, diseased humanity trudge around mindlessly trying to survive in Mouseschwitz, frittering away the hours by waiting in line for rides and attractions that can turn threatening at any moment.

As Jim and his family try desperately to enjoy their time together, Escape From Tomorrow starts to look and feel like a lost or missing episode of Louie. Jim's deep ambivalence about marriage, fatherhood, and basic human interaction (and his frequent, mournful sex daydreams about a pair of underage French girls he keeps seeing at the park) further underscore the film's debt to the rhythms and ideas of Louis C.K.'s innovative, unpredictable TV series.

The opening 50 minutes of Escape From Tomorrow effectively and repeatedly prove that the Most Magical Place on Earth is as awful and alienating as Anytown, USA. But Moore loses steam after an eerie nighttime sequence set near Epcot. Yet the film's uneven, increasingly paranoid and nonsensical final third includes a grim fairy tale about a former Disney worker driven mad from faking happiness all day long. When Mickey, Donald, and Pluto finally appear, they look as creepy as something conjured up on Bald Mountain. And after the film's final image, you'll never look at Tinker Bell in the same way again. — Addison Engelking

Avarice (Rachel M. Taylor, 15 min.), 7 p.m., Playhouse on the Square, plays immediately before Escape from Tomorrow
This immensely polished local short is like a sizzle reel for production design and special effects. Rachel M. Taylor writes/directs Avarice, a fantastical tale about a little girl (Haley Parker) who sees a magical glowing light and follows it out of her bedroom and into the woods. It leads her to a shimmering jewel, which turns black when she touches it. The nonverbal film has a palpable creep factor as the girl goes deeper into the unknown; the lesson seems to be that material things are like a spider in a web, waiting to trap us.

Frankenstein
  • "Frankenstein"
Frankenstein (James Whale, 70 min.), 7 p.m., Memphis Brooks Museum of Art
Let’s be serious, people: Frankenstein is essential viewing.

There’s so much to love in this 70-minute masterpiece: the stark Expressionist production design which taught moviegoers to shiver whenever they saw graveyards and mountain castles; the sly humor that director James Whale would push to the forefront of 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein; Colin Clive’s mad, transcendent chant (“It’s alive!”), surely one of the high points of the American sound cinema; Boris Karloff’s sensitive, subtle portrayal of the mute, beauty-starved monster. Interestingly, the monster first appears with his back to the audience; his face is revealed in a series of shock cuts.

Like many of the best Universal horror films, Frankenstein is incredibly sad. In fact, I think it’s more upsetting than King Kong, which it predates by two years. — Addison Engelking

Touchy Feely (Lynn Shelton, 89 min.), 7:15 p.m., The Circuit Playhouse
At first, the patchouli-scented realism of Lynn Shelton’s Touchy Feely threatens to lull people to sleep. But while Shelton — who, as a writer-director-editor, is a rare triple threat — spends plenty of time documenting the soothing patter of professionals who have to touch other people while they work, there are serious issues underneath her characters’ skins.

Touchy Feely focuses on two siblings: a masseuse named Abby (the always-awesome Rosemarie DeWitt) and a dentist named Paul (the equally affecting Josh Pais). When Abby suddenly loses her ability to put her hands on her clients, Paul seems to accidentally discover a way of curing his patients’ ailments through routine procedures. (Ellen Page co-stars as a disaffected Seattle twenty-something, a role she was predestined for from birth.)

Shelton uses stationary camera setups for nearly every shot, which create a soothing rhythm she deliberately breaks late in the film. As the camera drifts through a nearly abandoned house, a drugged-up Abby reminisces about an old boyfriend. This scene, which lets Terrence Malick and Joe Brainard shake hands with each other, provides an apt if too-soon closing to a mellow movie that, almost as an aside, features one of the most talented ensembles of the year. — Addison Engelking

Rosemary's Baby
  • "Rosemary's Baby"
Rosemary's Baby (Roman Polanski, 136 min.), The Circuit Playhouse
The absurdist horror film Rosemary’s Baby is one of Roman Polanski’s most suggestive and unnerving works. A sexy, never-better Mia Farrow stars as a young waif in New York City who moves into a stately apartment building with her actor husband (John Cassavetes). Once they settle in, their elderly neighbors seem overly eager and willing to lend them a hand — and that’s when things start to get weird.

The many esteemed veterans in the loaded cast delight in their slyly transgressive roles; Ruth Gordon won a well-deserved Oscar for her role as a solicitous old bat who plies Rosemary with strange potions during her pregnancy. For most people, the most memorable part of the film is its blasphemous climax. But I’m partial to an earlier, campier scene that dives headlong into the abyss once Rosemary utters a line of dialogue thick with fairy-tale malice: “This is no dream — this is really happening!” — Addison Engelking

For the full schedule, go to Indie Memphis' page here.

[Updated at 1:15 p.m. with review of Avarice, inadvertently not included in original post.]

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