metrosantacruz.com
News, music, movies, events & restaurants in Santa Cruz, California from Metro Santa Cruz weekly

Movies
March 7-13, 2007

home | metro silicon valley index | cinequest | reviews


Cinequest 2007

Capsule Reviews

By Mike Connor (MC); Bill Forman (BF); Michael S. Gant (MSG); Steve Palopoli (SP); Claire Taylor (CT); Richard von Busack (RvB)


Cinequest runs through 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, see www.cinequest.org or call 408.295.FEST.

Disclosure: Metro is a sponsor of Cinequest.

* = Recommended

Special Events

Christopher McQuarrie
The con man Verbal Kint has been listed as one of "The 100 Greatest Heroes and Villains of All Time" by the American Film Institute. But which one was Kint, hero or villain? "Kint" (if that was his name) might be just one mask from the cabinet of a certain Turkish master criminal. (Kevin Spacey, who portrayed Kint onscreen in the film The Usual Suspects, looks like he could be from anywhere in the Levant.) And what's in a name? Kint or "Blofeld" or "Mabuse"? Remember the incident in Moby-Dick where Ahab, raving, claims that his whale is just a mask that Something is wearing, and how he must strike through the mask to get at it? These names are all only aliases, and there's some other name we cannot know: some name, some little word, signifying the eye that never sleeps, the hand that will stop at nothing. Before Christopher McQuarrie won the Oscar for writing The Usual Suspects, he worked as a private detective in New Jersey; he collaborated with his friend Bryan Singer on the script for Public Access, which opened Cinequest in 1993. His debut as a director was the cult film The Way of the Gun (2000), and currently McQuarrie is working on the new version of the old sci-fi favorite Logan's Run. Interviewing McQuarrie is Lew Hunter, Professor Emeritus of scriptwriting at UCLA. At the event, the winner of the Cinequest scriptwriting competition will be announced. He appears at a workshop as part of the Day of the Writer. (RvB) (Mar 9, starting at 9:30am, Mr. McQuarrie talks at 1:30pm, SJ Rep; tickets for the day are $15)

Documentaries

Making It Right
(U.S.; 87 min.) In Silicon Valley, affordable housing scarcely exists, and the gap between salaries and the high cost of living is being filled with credit card debt. To expose these crises—and to expose SJSU students to them—director Bob Gliner and exec producer Barnaby Dallas decided to create a reality TV show. Four teams of three students each would investigate potential solutions to these social problems. Eventually, the teams would bring their live presentations to a panel of judges, who would vote on their favorites. First prize was a year's tuition. This behind-the-scenes documentary shows how 100 students auditioned for the show. They tell of parental suicide, brushes with cancer or single parentage. As in any reality show, the strain on the contestants is as much a part of the story as the tasks they have at hand. (RvB) (Mar 7, 7:15pm, SJ Rep)

Super Amigos
(Canada and Mexico; 82 min.) Forget Jack Black and Nacho Libre; Mexico's real masked men with a mission fight for social justice and go by names like Super Barrio, Super Animal and, yes, Super Gay. Mexican-born filmmaker Arturo Pérez Torres attended film school at San Francisco State University and follows up on his debut doc, Wetback: The Undocumented Documentary, with a film whose pop-kitsch tropes (animated sequences, Los Straitjackets-style surf tunes) underscore what initially appears to be an entirely absurd phenomenon. "They are the Quixotes of La Mancha," observes one commentator as we are introduced to these seemingly absurd and undeniably paunchy superactivists who straddle the line between Lucha Libre wrestling and superhero fantasy figures as they fight against everything from poverty to pollution. But by film's end, when we are told that Zapatista movement member Super Barrio has fended off 10,000 evictions, these strange socia luchadors start making sense. Now, if Mexico (and the U.S., for that matter) just had a masked luchador who could take on corrupted elections. (BF) (Mar 9, 7:15pm, C12; Mar 10, 11am, C12; Mar 11, 1:45pm, C12)

* Trained in the Ways of Men
(U.S.; 92 min.) Shelly Provost's documentary about the brutal killing of transgendered teen Gwen Araujo in Newark walks the line between true-crime grit and educational queer-positivism. It's an approach fraught with disaster potential—lighthearted on-the-street interviews about gender identification could come off as inappropriate, while ghastly details about the murder might have seemed too sensationalistic. But Provost's earnestness is beyond reproach—this is a heartfelt and moving film that takes the crucial first step toward healing society's transphobic ills. Of course, the first step is always the hardest, and a huge part of the audience that needs to see this film may be uncomfortable with the questions it raises. But anyone who can open their mind enough to walk into it will walk out with their worldview challenged and changed. (SP) (Mar 10, 7:45pm, SJ Rep; Mar 11, 4:45pm, SJ Rep)

Features

Celluloid #1
(U.S.; 78 min.) If you are as sick as I am of two-bit Warhol biopics featuring anyone who so much as drove by his studio in the '60s, go see Steve Staso's Celluloid #1 instead of Factory Girl. Whereas Hollywood films try to squeeze whatever's left of the Factory mystique into typical mainstream narratives, Staso has actually made a Warhol film for the 21st century. It captures the same feel of glam colliding headfirst into bland—flamboyant, fetishized art-school characters act like they're doing the most important work in the world when really they're doing hardly anything at all. The ringleader, an insufferable director named Clayton Beaubien, is just inches away from being exposed as the fraud he is as the movie opens—his acclaimed indie debut was 10 years ago, and he's beginning to smell like a has-been. He thinks the answer to his problems is to turn his film-at-all-costs approach on a damaged actress, Caprice Geoffrey, who's more famous for her troubled marriage than her talent. The movie follows what becomes of their "collaboration," but it's Staso's ability to walk the line between exploiting the coolness of celebrity and mocking its emptiness that makes this a gas. For once, Andy would be proud. (SP) (Mar 9, 7pm, C12; Mar 10, 9pm, C12; Mar 11, 4:45pm, C12)

* Cotton Eyed Joe
(1971) Shows with The Ghost Mountain Experiment; 35 years before making The Ghost Mountain Experiment, then USC film student John MacDonald demonstrated his remarkable eye for the Southern California landscape in this 11-minute short. It's a wordless story of a day in the life of a tramp (Cal Bellini) squatting near Chavez Ravine above the Harbor Freeway. He makes his ablutions, goes to sell his plasma at L.A.'s skid row and comes back to find his camp vandalized by little boys. It's more than just the shot of Bellini crossing the same railway bridge used in the finale of King Vidor's The Crowd that made me think Cotton Eyed Joe has the purity of the best silent films. As a subject Bellini is so soulful that even the season of the film—Christmas, as we can see in the decorations—doesn't seem like piling it on. Indeed, there's not a bathetic moment in the film. The cityscapes demonstrate how a truly smoggy city can diffuse light into Henri Rousseau colors. At the magic hour, the tangerine-colored ball of the setting sun brings out distinctiveness in every petal of the laurels and oleanders. The title lament is performed by Nina Simone. (RvB) (Mar 8, 2pm, C12)

The Curiosity of Chance
(U.S.; 98 min.) The easy way to dismiss this piffle by locally raised filmmaker Russell P. Marleau is by calling it a gay version of High School Musical. But that is too easy: it doesn't do justice to the film's noteworthy ineptness. Bolstered by what sounds like "Time-Life's Do You Remember Those Fabulous '80s?" on the soundtrack, this is the story of the coming-out of persecuted Chance (Tad Hilgenbrinck), a student at a European high school attended by overaged actors playing stereotypical American teenagers. Chance is picked on by the local soccer team, as well as by the evil-smelling Miss Smelker, the hulking vice principal. Meeting some drag queens and getting in touch with his theatrical side helps Chance deal with bullies, and it helps him patch up things with his ultramacho father (Chris Mulkey, relic of an age when indie movies had an edge to them). Anachronistic dialogue—"Talk to the hand," "I got your back"—doesn't beef up the illusion of Reagan-era authenticity. Shows with the short, Polka. (RvB) (Mar 8, 4pm, SJ Rep; Mar 10, 9:30pm, C12; Mar 11, 11:30am, C12)

Hitler Meets Christ
(Canada; 76 min.) Like some dream boxing matches, it's not as heart-stopping a bout as could be hoped. Michael Moriarty's two-man play is directed by Brendan Leown (Dark Arc, Cinequest '06), who sets the film in the skid row and city parks of Vancouver, B.C. It's a dialogue between the reincarnated Hitler and Jesus (Wyatt Page, showing the eerie side of bliss as well as, say, Tom Noonan would). Like Nixon, Hitler is a part that is good for any actor, and Moriarty does it proud, even with just the hint of the famous mustache visible above the grizzled beard. His Hitler is scatological and taunting. But he doesn't seriously miss his lost empire. What he seeks, instead, is death and oblivion—a nothingness he can only achieve by repenting, as if surrendering to God's son. Dismissing this ultimate act of egocide, Hitler tells Jesus, "You're crazier than Rudolph Hess." The intriguing idea never transcends the level of a squabble. (RvB) (Mar 8, 11am, C12.)

Long Pigs
(Canada; 81 min.) "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 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)

Monster Camp
(U.S.; 82 min.) Documentary director Cullen Hoback's plunge into the heart of geekness. In the Pacific Northwest, Hoback follows Live Action Role Players at NERO camp in Seattle; these are costumed gamesters who act out the scenarios that lesser fanatics only talk about over their rule books and 12-sided dice. Wearing makeup and Renaissance Faire-like costumes, they bop one another with "boffers" (PVC-tube "swords") or cast spells to heal or harm other payers. Interviews plumb the depths of their solecisms. We find the participants—no surprise here—have the kind of lives that lend themselves to fervent fantasy, such as hard-core high tech, grocery store shelving, and wheelchair-bound paraplegia. Still: everyone is a geek about something—it might be tax law, gear ratios or independent film—and Hoback's constant captions commenting on these gamers make his movie seem slapdash and disdainful. (RvB) (Mar 10, 1:15pm, C12)

Midnight Clear
(U.S.; 105 min.) On American Idol, judge Randy Jackson likes to tell contestants that if they're going to take on a great like Aretha Franklin or Stevie Wonder, that they'd better be able to "blow," otherwise the comparison will too readily kick their ass. Well, Midnight Clear, "You want me to keep it real, right? It wasn't that good, dawg." It is hard to say whether the acting, the directing (Dallas Jenkins) or the writing (Wes Halula) shortchanged this film, but something got in the way of it being another Crash or Magnolia. Five lives weave in and out through the course of a typical Christmas eve. Lefty (Stephen Baldwin) loses his job, is losing his family and has lost his home—essentially, he's a loser. A wife and mother (Mary Thornton) struggles to find peace on the anniversary of a car accident that turned her husband into a vegetable. An elderly lady (K Callan) begins setting up to commit suicide, only to be interrupted at every turn. Somehow, in the end, they're all just a little bit happier. If only it wasn't quite so predictable, and if only it was produced as deftly as its predecessors. (CT) (Mar 9, 7pm, SJ Rep; Mar 10, 5pm, SJ Rep; Mar 11, 2pm, SJ Rep)

* Military Intelligence and You
(U.S.; 80 min.) Dale Jutzera's spoof of World War II propaganda looks more authentic than The Good German, with a clever mix of black-and-white re-creations, footage from Army training films and clips from some jingoistic wartime features. Patrick Muldoon (Richard from Melrose Place) turns out to be as capable a comedian as Maj. Nick Reed, who pushes his operatives to the breaking point while trying to rekindle his romance with Lt. Monica Tasty. The humor is sometimes just silly (a German town is called Riboflavin, over and over again), but the mock narrator and portentous dialogue ("Raise the treat level from orange to tangerine") prove to be irresistibly funny. Of course, the real target here isn't World War II, it's Iraq (Pearl Harbor is renamed 12/7), and the film strafes Bush and Co. for their own misuse of military intelligence. To paraphrase Rummy, "When evil strikes, we go to war with the intelligence we have, not the intelligence we wish we had." Shows with the short Der Ostwind. (MSG) (Mar 8, 9:15pm, SJ Rep; Mar 9, 9:30pm, SJ Rep; Mar 11, 2pm, C12)

Parting Words
(U.S.; 110 min.) Stan Schofield's almost-ran rom-com concerns a group of three Jersey boys—Nick, Eddie and Vince—who orbit around their long-term platonic friendship with rowdy girl Laura (Elizabeth Regen). Heavily under the influence of champagne, Laura upstages Vince's wedding by declaring that she's dying of an unnamed illness and that she wants to sleep with all three of the men before she finally checks out. We have a group of actors who are all awkwardly playing people of a social strata below themselves, and similarly the parts all seem shaped for name actors (Eddie is the kind of role Steve Buscemi must have to turn down all the time). Lastly, there's the troublesome premise: "Imagine a female friend were dying of Indie Movie Disease. It's like Hollywood Movie Disease, except you say 'fuck' a lot more on your way to the deathbed. Would your wife let you sleep with her if it would ease her suffering?" Not much is real in Parting Words, in short, but Regen is noteworthy in the role of the dying blonde hellion. The semi-improvised, overlapping dialogue gives the film a slight amount of truthiness. (RvB) (Mar 8, 6:45pm, SJ Rep; Mar 10, 6:15pm, C12; Mar 11, 11:15 am, SJ Rep)

* The Prince's Respite
The premise of this extraordinary film from Hungarian director Peter Timar falls somewhere between Neil Gaiman-worthy fantasy and a kind of dark Groundhog Day for the attention-deficit generation. Newly deceased model Alia dances with the devil in the pale moonlight and is given a second shot at life if only she can convince someone (father? former suitor? anyone?) to die in her stead. Complicating her dilemma is the fact that she only has one minute to get the job done. Impossible? A minute can last an eternity, advises the Prince of Darkness, and sure enough Alia finds her world resetting itself every 60 seconds. Pursuing her through this seemingly endless reality loop are a trio of apocalyptic horsemen, diminished but deadly, who are intent on taking her out of the game. Intriguing and compelling, this brilliantly rendered and humorously grim fairy tale will surely find a cult following in lieu of the larger audience it well deserves. (BF) (Mar 9, 9:45pm, C12)

Pure Hearts
(Denmark; 81 min.) (Anders Matthesen) plays an inmate at a hospital for the dangerously insane; he's fixated on a 1940s film called Pure Hearts, in which a gentle country lass called Linda (the Alice Faye type, played by Laura Bro) is reduced to becoming a "champagne girl" at a clip joint. In an act of misguided therapy, a hospital orderly takes the tape away to make Kriss concentrate on the world around him; the madman escapes and embarks on a violent journey to find the long-retired actress who starred in Pure Hearts. It's a little difficult to see what director Kenneth Kainz is getting at—on the one hand, he's satirizing the one-track obsessions of the movie fan. On the other hand, this isn't really quite funny (though I get the impression that it's intended to be humorous; the star is a popular comedian in Copenhagen, and let's face it, Danes have the driest sense of humor on the planet). On some small level, Pure Hearts addresses the way we can sometimes misread films. It suggests that we adjust our lives and our thinking to the way we misremember how a story went—whether that story was an incident in our personal histories, or merely an image we saw at the movies. (RvB) (Mar 8 at 2:30pm, C12; Mar 9, 5pm, C12; Mar 10, noon, C12)

Sangre
(Mexico; 86 min.) Diego, Sangre's lazy-eyed protagonist, counts museum visitors for a living. His wife, Blanca, works as a cook at a Japanese restaurant. Together, they eat Carl's Jr. hamburgers, watch soap operas and have unremarkable sex, but mostly they sit in silence. Amat Escalante's Sangre is a sparse, bleak effort that tests the limits of just how little can happen in a feature film. The sensory deprivation forces us to watch and listen closely, which the acting deserves, but the action sometimes does not. Even when Diego's depressed and drug-abusing daughter comes back into his life, only to leave again in dramatic fashion, little happens in the way of emotional or psychological movement. The film is more a carefully wrought series of tableaus that reward scrutiny with modest moments of clarity in an otherwise murky story of a sad man's unfortunate life. (MC) (Mar 8, 7pm, CAL; Mar 11, 3:30pm, CAL)

* The Sensation of Sight
(U.S.; 134 min.) David Strathairn (Edward R. Murrow in Goodnight, and Good Luck) plays Finn, an English teacher in search of answers. By a single unfortunate event, he is catapulted into the Hindu role of the middle-aged Seeker. Finn leaves his family behind to escape his demons and pursue the ultimate Truth, armed with a wagon full of encyclopedias to sell. But rather than searching the wide world over, he never ventures outside his small New Hampshire town and the dozen or so people who inhabit it. The Sensation of Sight is writer/director Aaron J. Wiederspahn's dissertation on the eternal "Why?" Rather than attempting an answer, he responds by unraveling the circumstances that spawned the question in the first place, a bit like answering the question "Do geese see God?" by pointing out that it's a palindrome and moving on. But the work is no cop-out, deftly using clichés as touchstones for the wandering characters, who search for meaning but find only each other. (MC) (Mar 10, 6:30pm, CAL; Mar 11, 12:30pm, CAL)

Slumming
(Austria/Switzerland; 96 min.) Sebastian (August Diehl) is a rich and arrogant young urbanite who splits his time between meeting girls online and taking pictures of their crotches for sport and going "slumming" with his friend Alex (Michael Ostrowski) in the cultural backwaters of a cold and sickly Vienna. In short: a kind of Brett Easton Ellis-esque cipher for spoiled youth and their vacuous cruelty. His and Alex's adventures offer a peek at the vast cultural and socioeconomic chasms that still exist in modern-day Vienna, which the boys navigate via GPS, cell phones and the Internet. But Sebastian's impulse to meddle in the lives of others creates unexpected connections. On a whim, Sebastian and Alex abduct Franzl, a blustering, drunken poet whom they find passed out on a bench, and cart him off to the Czech Republic as a joke. As the bewildered Franzl tries to make his way home, Sebastian discovers the virtue of venturing outside of it. Directed by Michael Glawagger. (MC) (Mar 7, 4:30pm, C12)

* Two Players From the Bench
(Serbo-Croatia; 120 min.) Dejan Sorak's breezy yet dark comedy about former Yugoslavian war criminals. Two muttonheads—one a burly Croatian (Gorec Navoyec), the other a furtive Serb (Borko Peric)—become patsies in a scheme to spring a minor but beloved general, who is currently getting his just deserts at the Hague tribunal. Kidnapped and trained (badly) by police who are also working as clandestine members of the government, the two are coerced to portray members of the general's militia who can testify he was elsewhere on the day of a massacre. The surroundings—particularly a shot-up abandoned military base near Zagreb and a wretched rural tavern in the middle of nowhere—are so appalling that the snarling bear logo in the titles of Borat might be appropriate at the beginning of this. Indeed, the movie's theme song is an a cappella bellow: three patriots howling a song against Holland. The downside: it's slow in the first third (when Sorak is tempted to get into Reservoir Dogs territory). And the movie's love interest is strange; the boy-meets-girl scenes are done with such brusqueness that it's like that old joke about Scottish foreplay: the phrase "Brace yerself." Still, Navoyec's blustering Croat hillbilly really shines in the rib-tickling finale, a fiesta of perjury. (RvB) (Mar 8, 9pm, C12; Mar 10, 1:15pm, C12)

* We Are the Strange
(U.S.; 88 min.) Clearly the most ambitious experimental movie made in this valley in the last 20 years. Though it debuted at this year's Sundance, it's equally clear from the catalog that the programmers were baffled by local maniac M dot Strange's homage to the quarter-fed "twitch games" of the 1980s. (Interstellar villain Sinistar's voice baying "Beware! I Live! I Hunger!" makes a sampled guest appearance.) M dot Strange's dense visuals make it all the stranger. The film is a collage of Japanese anime, Casiotonic music, old-school computer animation with pixels the size of Lego blocks, and ultraviolet-lit primitive stop-motion: in short, a process Strange terms "St8nime." The plot, though, is easy. We're playing a discarded computer game that no one loved, left in the floor of an abandoned video store: forlorn heroine Blue and an orphaned Cain-marked "dollhead" wander a nightmarish forest that's like Gumby 2,400 C.E.; meanwhile the mysterious superhero Rain and his gibbering sidekick Ori (an Orgami-man who has been folded one too many times for his sanity) oppose the same evil forces that drove Blue into the wilderness. Not to be witnessed by the unimpaired, though witnessing it causes a sort of impairment, come to think of it. (RvB) (Mar 10, 10:15pm, SJ Rep)

Shorts

Shorts Program 4: Animated World
This year's animated program is the most innovative of Cinequest's shorts offerings—there's a lot more to it than the bubble-butt computer animation we've all gotten used to seeing over the last few years. Osbert Parker's Film Noir is an innovative cut-out narrative (with plenty of surreal touches) that every lover of the genre should make a point to see. Stacey Steers' Phantom Canyon is kind of like that, too, only a lot weirder. Lee Lanier's 13 Ways to Die at Home uses educational-film-type footage to hilarious effect in its attempt to warn us all of the dangers of poison toads, head lice, burnt toast and more. Dave Rubinson's Spin Cycle just goes around and around and around and around. (SP) (Mar 8, 4:30pm, C12; Mar 10, 4:15pm, C12; Mar 11, 11:15am, C12)


Send a letter to the editor about this story.






Movie Finder

MOVIE TIMES
Silicon Valley | Santa Cruz County | Sonoma / Marin / Napa

NEW MOVIE RELEASES
New and upcoming film releases.

ALL MOVIE REVIEWS
Browse all movie reviews.