Fest Bets

The 30-Year 'Quest | Parachute | 2001: A Space Odyssey | The Mark of Zorro | Fest Bets

FEET FIRST: In 'Barefoot,' Mark Baumer walks across the country without shoes.

Asking for It
Mar 7, 4:40pm, Hammer Theater
Mar 8, 9:35pm, Century 20 Redwood City
Mar 13, 10pm, California Theatre
Director Amanda Lundquist and co-writer, co-director Becky Scott are behind this well-acted and consistently funny comedic thriller. Stephanie Hsu, a highlight of Marvelous Mrs. Maisel as Mei, the shrewd girlfriend from Chinatown, is in a completely different mode here. She's a flannel-jammy-clad doormat in Brooklyn. Hsu's Jenny works at an awful psuedo-feminist media company called The Scribbler, where she makes a pittance cranking out clickbaity, 700-word articles about the circumciscion party of Lena Dunham's rescue dog; she's being tormented by a dickwielding stalker who calls himself "Cryptoboner" and who sends her messages like "I know where you'll live and I know where you'll die." Lisa, her mean and diffident new roommate (the formidable Irene Morales, who has the heavyweight glare of Jennifer Jason Leigh) reluctantly decides to help her find the threat. If you can't spot the culprit, you're blind, and the pace can sometimes be pokey. But the directors have the gift to let the comedy bits spin out, as in David Krumholtz's guest appearance as a totally useless policeman, and a books-on-tape parody of 50 Shades of Gray. Also starring Janeane Garofalo as an editor whose feminism is as fake as the artistically distressed fireplace behind her.

Barefoot: The Mark Baumer Story
Mar 9, 4:45pm, 3Below
Mar 14, 4:15pm & Mar 15, 3:15pm, Century 20 Redwood City
Count on Julie Sokolow (Aspie Seeks Love, Cinequest 2015) to find a fresh way to consider the story of Mark Baumer, a writer, poet and environmental activist from Maine. There are others who have done the transcontinental walk—the author Peter Jenkins made his name trekking from sea to shining sea. But Baumer proposed to walk across America barefoot, to bring attention to a nonprofit called FANG (Fighting Against Natural Gas), a grassroots group opposed to fracking. What began as a noble attention-gathering action slowly changed as the journey got arduous in snowy Ohio and the highway salt ate into his feet. Antic performance artist and video-maker that he was, Baumer recorded both his exuberance and his anxiety and loneliness—at one point, he even talked to the microwave oven in his motel. Meanwhile, it was the fall of 2016, and the newly elected president was getting as deep into carbon as he could. Baumer was treated well by most of the people he met; passersby offered him shoes, meals and money. But, as he told his parents, it wasn't his feet that were the problem, there were other, more dangerous matters along the highway. Interviewees include Baumer's mother and father, and his former live-in, Brown University assistant professor Ada Smailbegovic (she might be worthy of a small documentary herself, considering her academic efforts to find a meeting point between literature and biology). The story is affecting and sad, and not so far from Grizzly Man in examining the point where eagerness ends and dangerous naivete begins.

The Forgotten
Mar 8, 7:15pm, 3Below
Mar 10, 6:30pmMar 15, 1pm, Century 20 Redwood City
"If it bleeds, it leads..." but the slow bleed of the Eritrean crisis is the kind of tragedy that gets pushed aside by more dynamic trouble spots. Decades of misrule and war have left the citizens trying to escape across the desert; the long-time dictator Isaias Afwerki claims his missing citizens are "out on a picnic." The path to escape is blocked by the Rashaida, ruthless kidnappers and rapists who sometimes sell the organs of their unransomed victims. Director Sabrina Aman, the granddaughter of a man killed for political reasons, accompanies her father on a highly dangerous trip to visit the refugees of the crisis in Sudan. Some of the refugee camps (such as the largest, Wad Sherife) have been there since the 1960s, and medical attention is in terribly short supply. This is valuable information from behind the lines, and here's hoping some of the deep pockets we've got in the Valley can help the NGOs trying to cure and educate the stateless people seen here. There's no kind way to put it, but Sabrina Aman—in her attempt to explain the situation to uninformed Americans—sometimes gets in the way of her important material... as when she recreates a "dog parade" of suitors looking for an arranged marriage, or when she records observations of the Third World that are as facile as outtakes from a Globe Trekker episode.

Fried Barry
Mar 6, 9:50pm, 3Below
Mar 8, 6:35pm & Mar 10, 9:30pm, Century 20 Redwood City
Well, sir, what you've got here is a movie about a genuine lowlife: Cape Town junkie Barry (Garry Green) who goes out on his rounds, shooting up his spoonfuls, and then comes home to get reamed over the breakfast table by his hefty better half (Chanelle de Jager). She goes back and forth trying to decide whether it's more effective to scream at him in Afrikaans or English (the phrase "Fuck this shit!" decides the matter). Out on the street again, this Ed Harris-looking reprobate, with domed forehead, snaggly teeth and Amish beard, stumbles into an alien ray, and becomes an echolalia-speaking astro-zombie. The effect of the zapping seems to reach everyone around him—they can't wait to get his clothes off, girl or boy—while he corpses it, staring at the world with a John Carradine look on his face. (Good thing Green is a freaky and compelling subject for the camera.) All human behavior, from eating a hot dog to watching a blowjob, is weird and strange to this alienated traveler through the endless South African night town. And director Ryan Kruger's midnight movie conveys that alienation through arresting neon-bright visuals and a chainsaw fight.

Void (Tyjhio)
Mar 4, 4:30pm & Mar 5, 7pm, Century 20 Redwood City
Mar 6, 1:45 at the Hammer Theatre
Mar 15, 6pm, Century 20 Redwood City
Aleksi Salmenperä's drily hilarious black-and-white Finnish opus centers around a suffering novelist named Eero (Tommi Korpela) who's spent the 100,000 advance the publishers fronted him and has nothing but a laptop full of crap to show for it. He leaves his actress-girlfriend Pihla (Laura Birn) to embark upon a pointless freighter voyage that just makes him seasick. She has an affair on the set of her next movie and gets pregnant; the baby to come gives the couple a reason to get married and make each other unhappy. "You're like a paralyzed marmot," Pihla tells her husband, as her star rises and she becomes one of the most unbearable chimeras the media gives us—the baby-bump sporting actress. The effect of breastfeeding on her boobs is a matter of serious inquiry for the producers hiring her to play a space warrior in a Hollywood movie. Salmenpera compares and contrasts a Finnish literary scene too small to be called incestuous, and a tiny film industry that sends its best actors overseas to play exotically accented Scandinavians in bad American movies. The profiles of spinelessness recall Ruben Östlund's work, in The Square and Force Majeure. Yet any accusations of deliberate miserablism could be countered by the hopeful ending in Hollywood color. And the movie has one free person, a Bluto-sized alcoholic writer (Hannu-Pekila Bjorkman) who seems as "country as a chicken coop" as Samuel L. Jackson once put it. He's coarse as a cob, but turns out to be a good friend to the end.