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Cinequest Critic's Picks

cinequest Dose of Reality

Dose of Reality

(U.S.) Bartenders Tony (Rick Ravanello, looking like 40 years of rough road) and Matt (Ryan Merriman) find a near-dead girl (Fairuza Balk) in the back of their just-closed Glendale bar. They snort some crank to clear their heads—then things get crazy. Balk has spent much of her career in sketchy situations (see Personal Velocity), and she puts her prominent incisors to good use on the scenery here. Director Chris Glatis maintains an overheated tone with prominent red hues and a hand-held camera thrust in the actors' faces. Appearance and reality get roughed up in this humid mix of violence and confession. (DH)

Thu, 2/28, at 7pm (C12); Sat, 3/2, at 9:30pm (C12); Tue, 3/5, at 4pm (C12)

Big Al's Record Barn The Believers
The Believers

(U.S.) In 1989, the hopes of the world were first aroused, then dashed, by the announcement that a pair of researchers at the University of Utah had discovered a frictionless and radiation-free form of fusion. The aftermath is investigated in this absorbing documentary, neither overly skeptical nor overly credulous (and this may count as a liability, if you're trying to get a definite answer). The story is an object lesson of how un-peer-reviewed science leads to irreproducible events, and how a university's quest for prestige led the institution to go off half-cocked. Nearly 25 years later, the "technology" of "cold fusion" is an item for the cultists; we meet the elderly and frail Martin Fleischmann who announced it to the world; his partner, Stanley Pons, has vanished, and was last heard of farming in France. We also see some of the circle of true believers who feel that there must be some possibility of implementing the discovery—and who, surprisingly, had their hopes buoyed by the 60 Minutes crew in 2009. The Believers seems to clear the team of being deliberate charlatans, and that's a good deed. Even its wealth of talking-heads narrators doesn't completely explain why the trick can't be done twice—or why this Utah event remains a hobgoblin of '90s movies like Chain Reaction and The Saint. Would that one could power the world with ever-renewable, pollution-free hope. (RvB)

Fri, 3/1, at 8:45pm (C12); Sun, 3/3, at 1:45pm, (C12); Thu, 3/7, 11:45am (C12)

La Camioneta: The Journey of One American School Bus

(U.S./Guatemala) Director Mark Kendall seeks, and finds, invisible links between El Norte and Guatemala in this unusual documentary. Five Guatemalans in the bus-rehabilitation trade are interviewed; we watch the progress of an auctioned-off school bus from Virginia to that Central American nation. There, the International Harvester Blue Bird is painted over with a quetzal, and the second-hand bus becomes a gorgeously bedecked, chromed and painted camioneta. There is a Wages of Fear element to this industry that begins with one driver's fear of traveling through Mexico by night. In Guatemala itself, in one year, 130 bus drivers have been killed by extortion-seeking gangs, and the police have to fight the thugs and corruption in their own ranks to stamp out the violence. It's a tragedy that even a life this humble attracts predators, but Kendall seeks some kind of hope in a scene of the priests blessing the buses in the name of the decommissioned St. Christopher. (Why did the church get rid of a useful pretty legend, while keeping so many useless ugly ones?) (RvB)

Fri, 3/1, at 2:15pm (C12); Mon, 3/4, at 6:15pm (C12); Sat, 3/9, at 11:45am (C12)

cinequest The Scar
The Scar

(Canada) Like a somber Looper with much less firepower, The Scar shifts between decades and points-of-view. We see tween-aged Paul (Patrick Goyette) bullied by his father during a street hockey game, then bullying his adult teammates in a game 30 years later. The camera then follows the opposing goalie, Richard (Marc Beland), who is unemployed, estranged from his family and with a vendetta against Paul. The somber violence in the film is ever-present. Director Jimmy Larouche interweaves teenage anxiety and middle-aged remorse into a near-hallucinatory pattern. There is no simple message in this well-acted tale, except that revenge is a dish sometimes best not served at all. (DH)

Sun, 3/3, at 7:30pm (C12); Tue, 3/5, at 9pm (C12); Thu, 3/7, at 4:15pm (C12)

cinequest Solace

(U.S.) Essentially three one-act, two-character plays, Solace begins with a Tarantino talkathon between a lawyer (Robert Pralgo) and the thug (Dupree Lewis Jr.) he hires for an unspecified illegal deed. The second act conveys all too well the tedium of a crumbling marriage of convenience between a wealthy wife (Rhoda Griffis) and her philandering politico husband (Ric Reitz). The third act moves way back down the food chain in this Hobbesian world to an abandoned warehouse where Ridley (Russell Connegys) holds Sophia (Dixie Light) lashed to a chair, awaiting word on how to go about disposing of her. The last pair are the most circumscribed in the movie, but surprisingly, they end up display the most humanity. Solace is a structurally bold film, filled with a lot of talk—some of it compelling. (DH)

Sat, 3/2, at 5:15pm (C12); Sun, 3/3, at 11:30am (C12); Wed, 3/6, at 5pm (C12)

cinequest Year of the Living Dead
Year of the Living Dead

(U.S.) Is Night of the Living Dead truly the scariest film ever? Then why is director George Romero such a jolly presence, chortling merrily throughout Rob Kuhns' documentary? Romero has lots of reasons to laugh, recalling how he parlayed his TV work in Pittsburgh into an indie horror flick that unleashed the modern zombie trope. The film was made guerrilla-style in 1968 with Romero's friends and investors, and Year of the Living Dead is loaded with clips and tidbits (the onscreen gore was supplied by a butcher-store owner who was one of the film's backers) as well as lots of political analysis. The attempts to link Night of the Living Dead to late-'60s rebellion feel a bit overdrawn. The documentary strains particularly hard to turn the fact that the film's protagonist, Ben, is African American into a major statement about race relations; Romero himself admits only to a bit of fortuitous blind casting. Strangely, Year of the Living Dead never bothers to give us any information about actor Duane Jones, who was so effective as Ben. Jones (who passed away in 1988) was a stage actor and acting teacher dedicated to advancing black theater. Among his few film roles after Dead, the most notable was the genuinely weird avant-garde indie horror film Ganja & Hess. (MSG)

Sat, 3/2, at 11:59pm (C12); Mon, 3/4, at 5pm, (C12); Fri, 3/8, at 9:45pm (C12)

The Exam

(Hungary) A Cold War noir set in Hungary one year after the 1956 uprising, The Exam asks the recursive question "Who watches the watchmen?" as a test of loyalty to the state. As Soviets loomed over post-1956 Hungary, The Lives of Others looms over many Eastern Bloc filmmakers, but The Exam is more of a tense thriller.

Teacher/spy-for-the-state Jung (Zsolt Nagy) rendezvous with his lover the counter-revolutionary Eva (Gabriella Hamori) while Marko (Janos Kulka) listens in. This Hungarian television production is very well-paced and well-acted, and conveys the claustrophobia of an ever-nosy state. (DH)

Wed, 2/27, at 9:30pm (C12); Fri, 3/1, at 5pm (Rep); Sat, 3/9, at 9:15pm (C12)