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February 14-20, 2007

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'Full Grown Men'

'Full Grown Men'

Cinequest 2007

Capsule Reviews

By Richard von Busack (RvB), Jimmy Aquino (JA), Stett Holbrook (SH), Steve Palopoli (SP) and Jeffrey M. Anderson (JMA)

Cinequest runs Feb. 28-March 11 in San Jose at Camera 12, 201 S. First St.; the San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio; and the California Theatre, 345 S. First St. For ticket information, call 408.295.FEST (Disclosure: Metro is a sponsor of the festival)

* = Recommended

* Batad
(90 min.; Philippines) Fourteen-year-old Ag-Ap is torn between two worlds. As the only son of a traditional rice-terrace farmer high in the mountains of the Philippines, he catches glimpses of the modern world as educated, well-dressed tourists trek into his village of Batad and as he walks barefoot each week into a nearby town to sell the produce his poor family grows. He becomes obsessed with owning a pair of hiking boots, a quest that's aimed at impressing a pretty village girl but is also a metaphor for the lure of material comforts and modernity. The boy ultimately has to choose between village life and the world beyond. At once funny and poignant, the film is beautiful to look at with its stunning images of the verdant rice terraces, and Al Chris Galura's strong performance as Ag-Ap is the driving force of this exotic yet familiar tale. (SH) (Mar 1, 12:30pm, C12; Mar 6, 2:30pm, C12; Mar 7, 6:30pm, C12; Mar 9, 9:30pm, C12)

* Blood Car
(75 min.; U.S.) In some ways, my favorite film at Cinequest. Is there anything worse than a filmmaker who goes in for violence and neglects the sex? Fortunately, Atlanta maniac Alex Orr's Little Shop of Horrors-ish midnight-movie gives his audience both barrels. In the near future, gasoline is $38 a gallon. Archie Andrews (Mike Brune) is a gentle vegan school teacher who is trying to solve our fossil fuel addiction. Aided by Lorraine (Anna Chlumsky) at the wheat-grass stand, he's just about perfected an engine that runs on chlorophyll, but it turns out that human blood is the only catalyst that makes the fuel work. Archie descends into a one-way spiral of madness as he feeds innocent humans into his car. And his conscience is numbed by the sexual excesses of Lorraine's rival, the hot-pantsed female butcher Denise (Katie Rowlett). And then the government finds out about the blood-powered automobile. Believe it or not, Orr makes the murders and the love triangle so diverting that the no-blood-for-oil message is never as obvious as might seem. Rowlett and Chlumsky are so much fun—savor the vegetarian girl's batty flirting, in contrast with Rowlett's old-time bad-girl dialogue: "I'm sick of stalkers. Damn sick of them. And if I don't let you buy me food or let you [unprintable sexual act] me, you'll be in the bushes with the rest of them, crying and whacking off every time you get two beers in you." (RvB) (Mar 2, 10pm, C12; Mar 4, 8:30pm, C12, Mar 10, 1:30pm, C12)

(111 min.; U.S.) Chicago director Matthew Scott Harris' inspiration might have been the famous William Blake illustration of God wielding an arc and compass. God and Satan, chummy like they are in the Book of Job, are here called "Ivan" and "Joe Bad" and played by Harlan Hogan and Michael McIntyre. They entrust the power to give three inches of anything to a group of mortals. This can be anything from three extra inches of penis to a three-inch stack of hundred-dollar bills. The gift giver is the numbed, alcoholic hardware store owner Chance (Paul Turner), who is still grieving from the death of his family in an automobile accident. Harris uses titles, instead of a narrator, to hold his unwieldy cast together, but it's the same oversimplifying effect of having a narrator breathe down your neck. Harris' eye for his city is excellent, but the deadly pace makes Dimension hard to recommend: it just inches along. (RvB) (Mar 1, 9pm, C12; Mar 3, 1:15pm, C12; Mar 6, 6:30pm, C12; Mar 8, 1:15pm, C12.)

Full Grown Men
(80 min.; U.S.) Alby (Matt McGrath) is an unemployed, action-figure-collecting 35-year-old whose refusal to let go of his childhood causes a rift in his marriage. Exiled from his household, Alby embarks on a road trip to his favorite theme park, a Disney World knockoff that the filmmakers have called "Diggityland" to avoid the wrath of those other Mouseketeers: Mickey Mouse's legal team. Along the way, Alby encounters all kinds of similarly stunted misfits, from a lonely, middle-aged Weeki Wachee mermaid (Blondie's Deborah Harry in a great cameo) to a psycho hitchhiker (Alan Cumming in a not-so-great cameo that doesn't really pay off until an amusing final scene involving a nosy patrolman and a broken pistol). Cumming, who co-produced this road comedy from co-writer/director David Munro, must have an affection for irresponsible, self-absorbed man-children. Alby is reminiscent of the free-spirited, Ecstasy-addicted husband Cumming portrayed in his own 2001 directorial effort, The Anniversary Party. Will Alby learn to grow up or at least find a middle ground between adolescence and maturity? (Answer: Does Michael Jackson like little boys?) Luckily, Full Grown Men doesn't turn into another Jack (that maudlin Francis Ford Coppola movie with Robin Williams as an abnormally oversized kid) or another hacky Fox studio comedy a la Ass, the movie-within-a-movie that must have been a jab at the studio's lame comedic output in Mike Judge's unfairly neglected Fox film Idiocracy. Munro opts for a less treacly, less slapsticky tone. Trucker cap-loving comedian Judah Friedlander (30 Rock, American Splendor) is a standout in a rare dramatic role as Alby's more responsible childhood pal, a special ed teacher who resents Alby for making him the brunt of his cruel jokes. You almost won't recognize Friedlander without the trucker cap. (JA) (Mar 3, 3:45pm, C12; Mar 4, 1:45pm, C12; Mar 5, 12:45pm, CAL)

* The General
(1927) Time for you so-called cutting-edge mavericks to see what a real movie looks like! (he shouted in a quavering voice, shaking his cane). Buster Keaton, as the engineer Johnny Gray, is tricked out with a feathery coiffure and a huge cravat, like a caricature of a romantic poet. Johnnie has two loves in his life. One is a girl, Annabelle (Marion Mack); the other is his locomotive, the General, which is stolen and hauled across the border. In retrieving the engine, Johnny gets to become what he wanted to be: a hero in Annabelle's eyes. The comedy of war is Keaton's theme here—the gun that misfires and kills the wrong man, the sword that flies off the handle, the officer's wrongheaded command—ideas all summed up in the sequence in which Buster is chased by a huge, snub-nosed cannon that has almost-human intelligence. Chris Elliot accompanies the action at the Wurlitzer. (RvB) (Mar 2, 7pm, CAL)

Long Pigs
(81 min.; Canada) "Long pig" is a centuries-old term for the human body as culinary yum-yum. Mockumentary is a decades-old device for fledgling filmmakers to get a movie made cheap. They come together here in what is almost an American remake of the cult French horror film Man Bites Dog. Writer/director/producers Chris Power and Nathan Hynes play themselves (mostly offscreen) as they follow around a cannibalistic serial killer (Anthony Alviano) for an extreme documentary project. There's a lot of meat in this graphic meat movie, but Alviano is disarming and hilarious as the mild-mannered gourmet, observing that "people who eat stew make great stew" and claming that despite what the fictional talking heads scattered throughout the film might say about the psychosexual nature of his habits, "I'm not a freak or anything like that. This is all culinary." Where Man Bites Dog wrapped itself in heavy questions about the morality of documentary filmmaking, the approach in Long Pigs is fresh and funny, suggesting that it's better to let a cannibal into your life than a pushy, overly ambitious indie film crew. Shows with the short Free Range. (SP) (Mar 9, 10pm, C12; Mar 10, midnight, C12)

(118 min.; Indonesia) Robin Moran's comedy proudly takes its template from Hollywood, celebrating its old-fashioned sensibility. A klutzy engineering student, Dennis (Ariyo Wahab), is the heir to a successful soy sauce factory started by his grandfather. Everyone believes that the company's success is owed to its magical mascot, a rooster. When the fowl dies, Dennis must find another. Of course, the movie comes complete with a sneaky villain (Butet Kartaredjasa), a pretty girl (Uli Auliani), and a jealous rival (Epy Kusnandar). Moran demonstrates a sure hand, utilizing deadpan wide shots rather than frantic close-ups. This cheerful tone might have been enough, but the Moran spends too much time underlining and emphasizing each joke in favor of the slowest audience members. (JMA) (Mar 7, 9:15pm, C12; Mar 9, 1:30pm, C12; Mar 11, 11:30am, C12)

The Pacific and Eddy
(87 min.; U.S.) Matthew Nourse's drama about young people lost in their late 20s falls into the same category as recent art-house hits as Old Joy and Mutual Appreciation but lacks their spontaneity. A vagabond musician, Eddy (Ryan Donowho, from TV's The O.C.) returns home a year after one of his best friends has died. Eddy discovers that during his wandering limbo his other friends have changed and moved on. The film vainly struggles against its traditional story arc, attempting moments of naturalism and purity and every so often slowing the action down for a dreamy, indie pop song. There are vivid touches throughout, however, such as a character who gives hot-air balloon rides. Dominique Swain (from 1997's Lolita) and James Duval (Donnie Darko) co-star. Screens with the short film The Heart Collector. (JMA) (Mar 1, 9:30pm, SJ-Rep; Mar 4, 9pm, C12; Mar 6, 9:15pm, SJ-Rep)

(96 min.; Austria, Switzerland and Germany) Two arrogant yuppie pranksters (August Diehl and Michael Ostrowski) ride around categorizing and pigeonholing others, essentially making playthings out of them. Meanwhile, a drunken, derelict poet (Paulus Manker) wanders the streets alternately cajoling or ranting at people. When the pranksters find the poet passed out on a bus station bench, they decide to transport him to a similar bus station bench, across the border, without a passport. Director Michael Glawogger and co-writer Barbara Albert achieve a pleasurable quirky quality with their black comedy, carefully guiding it between the precious and the preachy. Amusingly, they sometimes even present the payoff to jokes before the setup. The film passes easily between immaculate cafes and slush-covered highways, but at its center is Manker's remarkable performance. (JMA) (Mar 1, 4:30pm, C12; Mar 5, 2:30pm, C12; Mar 7, 4:30pm, C12)

* The Third Monday in October
(90 min.; U.S.) Director Vanessa Roth examines the anxious world of student-council presidential elections and offers an entertaining and thought-provoking view of democracy in America, or at least on school campuses. Set against the 2004 Bush vs. Kerry campaign, the film follows the elections at middle schools in Austin, San Francisco, Marin County and Atlanta. While elections at all levels are often written off as hollow popularity contests, it's encouraging to see how seriously these students take their presidential campaigns and that more often than not it's the most qualified candidate and not just the most popular or good-looking student that wins. While national presidential elections seem hopelessly mired in mud and big bucks, the students in this documentary offer a refreshing dose of honesty and passion. The teachers get caught up in the drama, too. The way one Marin County teacher sells out a wiseass but well-meaning student to an indifferent principle will rile you up almost as much as the outcome of Bush vs. Gore. (SH) (Mar 5, 7pm, C12; Mar 7, 7pm, C12)

Tick Tock Lullaby
(73 min.; U.K.) In Lisa Gornick's digital video feature, four women make plans to get pregnant. A lesbian couple (Gornick and Raquel Cassidy) ponder the various options available to them; a neurotic wife, Fiona (Jo Bending) brings her neuroses to bed with her henpecked husband; and Fiona's sister (Sarah Patterson) takes to sleeping with a series of younger men. The characters also talk about getting pregnant, all the time, and about nothing else. Gornick, a cartoonist, divides up the talk with hand-drawn comic strips, also about pregnancy. It all wears thin pretty fast, but patience pays off; as the film approaches its final turn, Gornick allows refreshingly messy moments to creep in. The skilled, amiable cast also deserves credit for holding things together. Screens with the short film On a Tuesday. (JMA) (Mar 1, 7pm, C12; Mar 3, 2pm, C12; Mar 5, 9:15pm, C12)

Urban Explorers: Into the Darkness
(United States) There's something really cool about the word catacomb. It conjures up images of secret, subterranean places long hidden from the world above. Melody Gilbert's documentary Urban Explorers: Into the Darkness shines a light into a little-known subculture that's bent on seeking out these dark, forbidden places—sewers, abandoned buildings, mothballed rocket silos and underground rivers. Trespassing with abandon and often risking their lives, these thrill seekers boldly go where few have gone before. Or would want to go. Urban Explorers follows this international underground movement as they find beauty and excitement in a demimonde of urban detritus. While the film is probably too long by a third, the lively soundtrack and haunting still photography and cinematography keep you watching until the end. (SH) (Mar 3, 7pm, C12; Mar 4, 4:45pm, C12; Mar 9, 11:30am, C12)

You Are Here
(82 min.; U.S.) Henry Pincus (of MTV's The Sausage Factory) directed and wrote this story of a group of L.A. clubbers who don't have the sense to enjoy the privilege of their youth and beauty. Ryan (Patrick Fluegar) insists that he loves his just-friends companion Cassie (Lauren German). But he couldn't help winding up in bed with Apple (Katie Cassidy); he gets crisis counseling provided by cell phone from the urbane Mick (Adam Campbell, asking himself the question "What Would Jude Law do?"). And in flashbacks, we see what really happened. The plot is as drawn out and involved as a wino's story about why he needs $5. However, You Are Here isn't half-baked—the effort of the curlicue structure shows, and Pincus is honest about its shallowness. Which makes one more inclined to forgive its libelous misreading of the life of George Orwell—take another look at Burmese Days or the essay "Such, Such Were the Joys" and then claim that Orwell was a slummer. More grounds for clemency: Bijou Phillips as the dippiest female in the story. (RvB) (Mar 1, 9:15 CAL; Mar 2, 9:30 pm, C12; Mar 10, 10am, C12)

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