Features & Columns

Cinequest 2014 Film Previews

Acting Like Adults

Acting Like Adults

(76 min.) No surprise: they don't. A story of the squabbly afternoon Brett (Mark Famiglietti) and Shannon (the Rose Byrne-ish Leslie Murphy) spent together, teetering on the verge of engagement or break up, as they participate in a Los Angeles–wide scavenger hunt. First prize is a diamond ring: if he gives her the ring, will she give him the finger? At times directors Kyle Laursen and Eric Martin show some keen observation in anatomizing the simmering quarrel between the two leads. One scene stands out: the couple observing the city from a hillside, and neither can agree on what they're seeing—the most exciting town in the world or a flat wasteland of endless suburb. The extensive L.A. locations are a sign of ambition in itself, and a sign of the effort of getting the cast out of the boxes most mumblecorians would have kept them in. But this debut gets stuck in the cute zone. The actors keep reassuring us we forgive them for their pettiness, their inability to recognize how made for each other they apparently are. (RvB)

Sat, 3/8, 7:15pm (C12); Sun, 3/9, 4pm (Rep) ; Sat, 3/14, 4:15pm (C12)

CinequestBlood Punch

Blood Punch

(103 min.) In this indeed bloody and metaphysical neo-noir, a meth-rattled chemistry student, Milton (Milo Cawthorne), decides to cook a batch for a femme fatale, Skyler (Olivia Tennet), he meets in rehab. Her crooked-cop boyfriend's (Ari Boyland) fondness for weaponry complicates an already sketchy endeavor. What Blood Punch lacks in nuance it makes up for in gore. The wife-and-husband team of director Madellaine Paxson and screenwriter Eddie Guzelian bring a couple's quotidian negotiations to a (literally) backstabbing triangle. Although you may think that you've seen Blood Punch before, the solid acting and inventive script bring an old genre back to life. (DH)

Fri, 3/7, midnight (C12); Sun, 3/9 9:30pm (Rep) ; Sat, 3/15, 11:45am (Rep)

CinequestThe Desert Fish

The Desert Fish

(84 min.; Farsi with English subtitles)

For his first feature-length film, Iranian-Canadian director Mohammad Ghorbankarimi shows off his visual skills, honed by years as an effects man, animator and cinematographer. The Desert Fish unfolds like a fairytale as a young Iranian boy's visions of his vanished mother lead him from his desert home south to the sea that took her away as mysteriously as it conjured her up. Ahmad's father cautions against trifling with fate; the mother was like "an angel," but he abused her love with a greed that emptied the waters of fish and destroyed a village. Dad's punishment is to toil ever after in a well, bent into the pretzel form of a penitent. After an opening section that drags on too long with extraneous dialogue, Ahmad reaches the coast and embarks on quietly beautiful, almost wordless journey on a brightly painted boat captained by Ahmad's Uncle Abbas. The swaying perspective of the deck reveals great expanses of gem-green water; in the torch-lit night, Abbas, wrestling with demons of his own, staggers drunkenly about the ship, overwhelmed by the mystery of a sea gone barren. Finally, Ahmad makes a literal (and figurative) leap of faith into the maternal depths that haunt his dreams. Ghorbankarimi worked with mostly nonpro actors, and the results are uneven. As Ahmad, young Iman Afshar isn't appealing or expressive enough to carry the film, but Ayoub Afshar's Abbas proves to be a natural with tremendous presence. The Desert Fish implies, only somewhat obliquely, the price we will pay for messing with Mother Nature, but the most lasting impression is that of rapturous saturated colors—what we'll miss most won't be the bounty but the beauty. (MSG)

Wed, 3/5, 4:45pm (C12); Wed, 3/12, 8:30pm (C12); 3/13, 6pm (C12)

CinequestHeavenly Shift

Heavenly Shift

(100 min.; Hungarian with English subtitles) A Hungarian Coen brothers movie with Tarantinoesque violence, and why not? Half-Hungarian/half-Serbian Milan (Andras Otvos) flees Sarajevo for Budapest during the 1992 Balkan war. He finds work as a paramedic for a shifty late-night ambulance company. The interplay with his fellow driver Kistamas (Tamas Keresztes, who looks like Steve Buscemi channeling Raul Julia) owes much to the Three Stooges. Milan's long-distance banter with his husky-voiced girlfriend (Natasa Stork) back in Sarajevo brings a welcome tenderness to the film. Otherwise, the ambulance service reeks of corruption and near-death. Restaurant scenes echo with the sounds of mastication, hospital scenes redound with the sounds of spurting blood. Gallows humor lightens this otherwise dark, late-night film. (DH)

Fri, 3/7 2:30pm (C12); Wed, 3/12 9:30pm (Cal), Fri, 3/14 9:15PM (Rep)

CinequestInercia

Inercia

(100 min.; Spanish with English subtitles)

Lucia, a woman in her late 20s, maybe early 30s, carries a Lady Liberty–sized torch for a long-ago boyfriend, Felipe. When she finds him again in a Mexico City hospital, she drops everything to play nursemaid to her sickly ex-beau, who needs, but resists, kidney dialysis. The romance took place 12 years ago, but for Lucia not a day has passed without her reliving it—the concept of moving on doesn't exist for her. Felipe, on the other hand, enjoys the attention but is more concerned about his Ph.D. thesis. As Lucia draws closer, Felipe grows increasingly querulous, verbally and psychologically abusing her (in his defense, the doctors indicate that his condition is turning him paranoid). He is the quintessential bad boyfriend, but that seems to be first-time director Isabel Munoz Cota Callejas' point: the purity of the woman's love justifies all sacrifices; Lucia is in love with the idea of love. The action takes place mostly in Felipe's hospital room (which is spacious and well-appointed, much to the envy of American viewers), filmed in stately, formalist compositions, with slow camera movements and a minimum of editing. Maricela Penalosa makes a compelling Lucia, expressing both the early elation of her character's joyous re-entry into the orbit of the love object and her increasingly painful realization of just what she has sacrificed for her ideal. Too bad that Flavio Medina's Felipe shows us barely a hint of what might have attracted Lucia in the first place. (MSG)

Fri, 3/7, 5pm (C12); Mon, 3/10, 5:15pm (C12); Thu, 3/13, 9:30pm (C12); Sat, 3/15, 4:15pm (C12)

CinequestWhen The Man Went South

When The Man Went South

(83 min.; Tongan, Spanish with English subtitles) All-Tongan cast! All-Tongan dialogue! The first movie filmed in the South Seas islands of Tonga is an ersatz allegory about manhood, cooperation and cooking. Flying Fox (Soane Prescott) goes on a walkabout of sorts to the southern parts of Tonga, where he intercedes between the feuding Eastern and Western tribes. Writer/director Alex Bernstein hired an all-amateur cast; their woodenness shows, although his script gives them little to work with. A good-natured and slow-moving film, When the Man Went South is an amiable travelogue of greater Tonga. (DH)

Fri, 3/7, 7pm (C12), Mon, 3/10 7pm (Rep) ; Thu, 3/13 5:15pm (C12)

CinequestMy Prairie Home

My Prairie Home

(77 min.; English) Firstly, My Prairie Home fills its purpose as a National Film Board of Canada film. It shows off that great nation—the Prairie Provinces especially, from the golden fields to the diamond glory of the Athabasca glacier. Our guide is Alberta folk-rocker Rae Spoon, a slim transgender guitarist with a '50s button-down, crew-cut and bespectacled nerd look. Rae was an escapee from a tyrannical Pentecostal family afflicted by loss and schizophrenia. Spoon tours solo by Greyhound (The Dog and its many stations look a lot cleaner north of the border), performing at cafes and church halls. Spoon is a brave soul, with a sweet, pure voice but the songwriting is so the nose: there's no space between the music and the original hurt, as there is in the work (to begin with) of grain-belt refugees like Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. I find Spoon more compelling when the artist is playing with a band instead of as a solo act, and more interesting when Spoon is being interviewed along with others, even though these others (an old girlfriend, Spoon's brother) defer completely to the artist. It's hard to watch a movie with a subject who is never contradicted—even if society itself is ceaselessly trying to contradict that person, to pigeonhole Spoon into one sex. (Richard von Busack)

Wed, 3/5, 7pm (C12); Sat, 3/8, 2pm (C12); Tue, 3/11, 7:15pm. (C12)

CinequestGo Down Death

Go Down Death

(88 min.; English) With the black and white photography, turn-of-the-20th-century setting, and stilted line readings worthy of a Guy Maddin film and featuring a cameo by a guy in a gorilla suit, Go Down Death goes down slowly but uneasily. Jimmy Lee Phelan's immaculate cinematography and other-worldly set design in a converted Brooklyn warehouse evoke Becket, Tom Waits and David Lynch. But director Aaron Schimberg seems determined to thwart any audience expectations by confining his underwritten characters to awkward dialogue and an increasingly fragmented mis-en-scene: all in the name of New York dada, I suppose. Go Down Death does not make for easy viewing, but among the alienating affects are shards of great beauty, such as a young boy (Rayvin Disla) singing. Go Down Death is for those willing to suffer for their art. (Don Hines)

Mon, 3/10, 3:45pm (C12); Wed, 3/12, 6pm (C12); Fri, 3/14, 9pm (C12); Sat, 3/15, 11am (C12)

CinequestHappenings of the Eighth Day

Happenings of the Eighth Day

(79 min.; English) Iranian-American Arya Ghavamian made Happenings of the Eighth Day while living locally before decamping for New York, hence lots of location work on Paseo de San Antonio. Like many young filmmakers, Ghavamian finds his subject in the making of his own film, as a young Iranian director in San Jose finds his efforts to complete his movie thwarted by a sinister secret organization. Short scenes alternate among self-conscious discussions about the script and actors; moody visual interludes that sometimes morph into complete light-pattern abstractions; mysterious clips of a woman wandering through the fountain jets at Plaza de Cesar Chavez; and harsh montages of political strife and atrocity, from Vietnam to Iraq to 9/11. Ghavamian displays some stellar chops at cinematography, editing and sound design (with help from musical director Endika). No technique is left unturned: fuzzy focus; dialogue jumping in and out of sync; sudden caesuras in the soundtrack; backdrops where they don't naturally belong, microphones and clap-boards front and center; text blocks onscreen (a la early Godard); monologues delivered straight to the camera and many more. As a calling card, the film impresses; unfortunately, all the tricks obscure rather than illuminate whatever message Ghavamian wants to impart. (Michael S. Gant)

Thu, 3/13, 9:15pm, SJ Rep; Fri, 3/14, 7pm, (C12); Sat, 3/15, 5:15pm, (C12)

CinequestThe Hands of Orlac

The Hands of Orlac

(1924) The best version of this tale of a transplant gone awry is the powerful creeper by Karl Freund/Peter Lorre Mad Love (1935). It was just saluted in the RoboCop remake, in the scenes of the mechanical hands plucking out chords on an acoustic guitar. In the silent original, Conrad Veidt reteams with his director Robert Wiene from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Veidt has the title role, a classical pianist maimed and given a new pair of hands—the hands of a convicted and executed murderer. The direction tends to be antique, as when Wiene keeps cutting to pages of the diary of the madman. But the suave and frightening Veidt brings total conviction to this, and it's easy to see the truth behind the old movie poster claim: "Women Fight for Conrad Veidt!" With Dennis James' own hands on the California Theater's Wurlitzer, it should be nightmare material. (RvB)

Sat, 3/14, 7pm, California Theatre. Meet and greet to follow at Orchestria Palm Court, 27 E. William St., San Jose.