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Movies
02.27.08

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Phaedra

The Aerial

(Argentina ) Surely the visual highlight of this year's festival, Argentine writer/director Esteban Sapir's retro-futuristic silent feature is a flood of stunning images. Stark and moody in gorgeous black-and-white, it wears its influences on its sleeve, with visual homages to Luis Bu˝uel, Fritz Lang and David Lynch. Yet it avoids both the misanthropy of most surrealist cinema and the self-importance of expressionism. In its far-out story of a city ruled by Mr. TV, who plots to take away the very language of its inhabitants forever, it combines the comic-book sensibility of old-time serials with the nostalgic eccentricity of Guy Maddin and the humanism of Frank Capra. The end result is one of a kind. (SP)

March 1 at 9:30pm at the California Theatre; and March 3 at 5pm and March 8 at 11:30pm, both at Camera 12.


Around the Bay

(U.S.) Local director Alejandro Adams makes a compelling story out of well-chosen images and unsaid, unheard or overheard words. Noreen (Katherine Darling) leaves her uncommunicative tycoon live-in. Wyatt (Steve Voldseth), a not-young executive, is absorbed with his financial troubles. He barely seems to register the presence of his 5-year-old son, Noah (Connor Maselli). For convenience's sake, he whistles up Daisy (Katherine Cello), a lovely, rootless girl living in another state. Noah is technically Daisy's flesh and blood, but minding him is a strain. And then Noreen decides to return to the picture. Though Around the Bay is an intimate film, this is no small story. Underscoring the tale is a reminder of the vast influx of money into the Bay Area and the struggle to direct that flood. The visual tension comes the difference between the serene Japanese-theme living spaces and the emotion-killing pressure on the people who live in them. Voldsetth's first-rate lead performance and Adams' direction matches the much-praised exposure of soul-barrenness in There Will Be Blood, with none of the attendant melodrama. (RvB)

March 1 at 7:45pm and March 8 at 7:45pm, both at San Jose Rep; and March 4 at 4:15pm at Camera 12.

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D Tour: A Tenacious Documentary

(U.S.) This bold and daring documentary from director Jeremy Konner is the last movie you'd expect Tenacious D (who produced the film) to make about themselves. Jack Black and Kyle Gass have built their D empire on ridiculous and hilarious overconfidence, playing their alter-egos as two acoustic guitarists who want to rock your socks off so damn bad they believe they are the greatest band in the world. Everything is mock bluster and bravado, with world domination the only imaginable goal. The twist in D Tour is that it documents how this clever cult band can so not rule the world. Who knew JB and KG would be willing to reveal their true selves, especially in moments of disappointment and failure that are raw, if not downright brutal? It all begins as they mount a tour for their long-awaited film, The Pick of Destiny. Already their tender insides are showing: Kyle confronts Jack gingerly when adding a full band for the tour doesn't feel right to him, and slowly we see his frustration with the band's direction and his resentment over Jack's celebrity grow. We see Jack getting used to having his wife and a new baby on tour, and wondering if "the world is sick of Jack Black." But the biggest shock for them comes when the movie is finally released, after so much buildup, to deafening silence. "It didn't even make the Top 10, so it's almost like it didn't come out at all," says a defeated Jables. "No one's even talking about how big a bomb it was." He tries to be philosophical about it, and then sneaks back on to his computer: "Maybe there was a mistake, maybe we're in the Top 10 after all ... no." The band takes it hard, and the audience can't help but take it hard, too, especially as they read The New York Times' review out loud ("The gist of the Pick of Destiny—sad, fat rock losers make it big—has been done to death") or when Kyle's mom tells him, "There was an article about Tenacious D in today's paper, but it's all about Jack. It's almost like you don't exist." Watching it all unravel and seeing how Kyle and Jack finally resolve it makes this a truly human film that fans and nonfans alike will relate to. There's hardly any concert footage, but it's better anyway to see a documentary like this really get behind the music. (SP)

March 1 at 10:15pm at San Jose Rep and March 2 at 7pm at the California Theatre.

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Dear Zachary

(U.S.) Local director Kurt Kuenne's urgent, furious account of the same crime that was the subject of David Bagby's bestseller Dance With the Devil. Kuenne's buddy Dr. Andrew Bagby, a Jack Blackish figure from Saratoga, later became a surgical intern in rural Pennsylvania. There he was murdered by a psychotic fellow resident. And then the tragedy began in earnest when the murderess escaped back home to Newfoundland. Made in the form of a letter to Andrew's infant son, this incredible, well-researched documentary demonstrates the vast gulf one life can leave behind. The drawback? Kuenne is obviously a life-long film geek—we see him in childhood playing the role of Indiana Jones in a home movie—but the same technical facility that makes Dear Zachary so admirably well edited can also make it slick. Tell-tale-heart thumps, prison-door slams and animated Monty Python mouths on the court officials whom Kuenne hates really cheapen the hell out of this otherwise well-told story. And so does a death-roar of rage when the story comes to a climax. It's as if he thought we wouldn't be angry enough without the italics and exclamation points. (RvB)

March 1 at 7pm and March 3, both at 4:30pm at Camera 12; and March 2 at 6:30pm at San Jose Rep.

Echoes of Home

(Switzerland/Germany) The new sound no one expected, nouveau yodel, is highlighted in this documentary by Stefan Schwietert (Accordion Tribe). Switzerland's Christian Zehnder mixes the national yelp with throat-singing and Arabic vocal elements. Life-long trad performers the Alder Boys find themselves confronting world music in their midst. The thoroughly bicultural and utterly charming Erika Stucky (come back to San Francisco, Erika!) demonstrates some of her avocations. She sings some spooky cabaret and pumps an accordion in front of an audience of solemn-bearded taverners. She performs Randy Newman's Brechtian death dirge "In Germany Before the War," and she prowls a skull-filled ossuary complete with a traditional memento mori on top: "As you are, so were we; as we are, so will you be." Like Les Blank, Schwietert insists on environment as the soul of a people's music, contrasting the unlovely industrial clusters of urban Switzerland with the somber Alps behind them. And he demonstrates the many moods of yodel from primal scream to cow-calling, from blue-mood expression to invitation to a fistfight. The impressionism leaves a few questions unanswered though—why do yodelers perform with brooms onstage? (Maybe it's to sweep off the thrown brassieres.) (RvB)

March 2 at 11:30am, March 6 at 2pm and March 8 at 11:30am, all at Camera 12.

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High Ambitions in The Himalaya

(U.S.) Los Gatos filmmaker Curt Dowdy's documentary about an expedition up Cho Oyu, the sixth-highest mountain in the world, was voted into the festival by fans via Cinequest's Vuze Audience Favorites competition online. It's not hard to see why; as a testament to the sheer endurance and perhaps insanity it takes to scale a peak like this, it's hard to imagine something grittier. As we watch what the climbers have to go through just to begin their expedition, and hear about deaths in other camps from altitude sickness and one woman who has a stroke, the best evidence seems to suggest that no one should be doing this. In fact, one leader admits, "We're going to be climbing at altitudes where the human body wasn't designed to go." Dowdy gets in deep on the challenges the hikers go through, not just physically but mentally and emotionally. Just listening to John Taske (who survived the Mt. Everest catastrophe recounted in Into Thin Air and is one of the six teammates on this climb) describe trying to convince his wife to let him go on this trip after she agonized over him a decade ago is kind of chilling. Dowdy's interviews elicit real empathy for these climbers when we can see how hard they push themselves; they will be disappointed in themselves for something as small as acclimatizing slowly to something as big as having to turn around—more than one drops out before the final summit push. The reward for those who stay on: the 26,000-foot-up "Death Zone." Yay! Do they make it? See for yourself. (SP)

March 8 at 2:15pm at Camera 12.

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I Think We're Alone Now

(U.S.) It is said that you're not a bona fide celebrity until you get your first stalker. I Think We're Alone Now explores the lives of two people who are fixated on '80s pop star Tiffany. Fiftysomething Jeffrey Deane Turner lives in Santa Cruz and uses radionics equipment to connect with Tiffany on the spiritual plane. Kelly McCormick is a hermaphrodite from Denver and claims Tiffany as the grand poobah of all inspiration in his/her life. Both individuals are written off as mere stalkers, but they have a lot to reveal. You may begin by laughing at it all, but you won't be by the time it's over. The ultimate scene comes when both Turner and McCormick finally meet each other preceding a Tiffany concert in Las Vegas and then subtly argue about who's a closer friend of hers. Local San Jose resident Douglas Hawes, a longtime compadre of Turner's, makes a few cameo appearances in the movie. (GS)

March 8 at 2pm at Camera 12.

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Sputnik Mania

(full review)

(U.S.) Santa Cruz filmmaker David Hoffman recalls one year that shook the world with a wealth of archival footage. Adapting co-writer Paul Dickson's book Sputnik: The Scare of the Century, Hoffman returns us to 1957, when the Soviet Union launched the first space satellite: Sputnik. Seizing the issue, Democrats and right-wing fulminators exploded like proverbial rockets themselves. The Cold War heated up as America struggled to catch up fast with the Russians. American amateur rocketeers blew their digits off in homemade missile experiments. And Eisenhower, barbecued by the Democrats, reluctantly turned to the military to develop better missile technology. Hoffman's rewarding documentary assembles everything from vintage toy commercials to interviews with Sergei Khrushchev. (RvB)

March 3 at 7pm and March 4 at 9:30pm, both at San Jose Rep.


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