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March 8-14, 2006

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Dance of the Elements: Sarala dances despite the odds in 'Water.'

Reel Climax

Cinequest winds up with big names

By Richard von Busack

CINEQUEST'S last four days are some of its busiest. They include everything from reprises of the more buzzed-about offerings to closing-night feature Water. On Saturday (7:30pm), Buster Keaton's Seven Chances screens at the California Theatre. William H. Macy returns to present his new David Mamet-scripted film Edmond about an exec on the rampage (March 11 at 4:15pm at the California Theatre). This weekend, the Maverick Spirit Award will be presented to Edward James Olmos (March 12 at 3pm at the California), and Saturday's addition to the Day of the Producer (March 11 at 3:30pm at Camera 12): Avi Arad, chief of Marvel Studios, and the man who helped get the Spider-Man franchise off the ground.

Hard Scrambled (U.S.; 84 min.) You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant—especially a knuckle sandwich from the chief cook and bottle washer, Benno (Kurtwood Smith), a tattooed grumpus of an ex-con. When Alice (Beth Grant) suffers a deep-fat-fryer accident, it looks like the greasy spoon will be sold to a franchise builder (Richard Edson) who wants the staff to wear funny cartoon hats. But then the stories get confused. What seemed as affectionate as the diner in Alice (I mean the TV show) turns out to be a setting for the falling out of thieves, as in (studiously) Reservoir Dogs, complete with a duct-tape torture scene. It now seems clear that the phrase "character study" describes a movie in which you can't buy a syllable of the script but in which the acting is more or less believable—more, that is, with Smith (RoboCop); less with the gunsel Scott (Eyal Podell), whose creative approach to the truth causes mayhem. Directed by David Scott Hay, based on his play. (Mar 11, 4:45pm, C12; Mar 12, 2:30pm, C12)

The West Wittering Affair (U.K.; 90 min.) Flash-forwards and flashbacks outline this comedy about the catastrophic weekend that Jamie (Danny Schienmann) spent with two women: Cathy (Sarah Sutcliffe), who hasn't had any sex in six months, and the more exotic Natasha (Rebecca Cardinale), who just found out her boyfriend is cheating on her and is bent on revenge. Both women (separately) pounce on Jamie and then punish him for succumbing, which sends the oversensitive boy to therapy at the hands of a therapist (David Annen) given to pronouncements like "The vagina is a weapon, and in the wrong hands it can be dangerous" and "When I take all my clothes off, I feel naked." This interesting small-camera take is so dry it flakes apart like dandruff. (Mar 9, 7pm, CAL; Mar 10, 12:15pm, C12; Mar 11, 5:45pm, C12)

Water (Canada, India; 114 min.) The third part of Deepa Mehta's "elements trilogy" is a lush drama about Indian widows. In 1938, Chuyia (Sarala) is an 8-year-old whose husband from an arranged marriage has died. Now, she must live in a "widow house" controlled by the lazy bhang addict Maduhamati (Manorama). Change is in the air, however, as Gandhi is rallying India against its most inhuman traditions. But the change may come too late for Kalyani (Lisa Ray), whose beauty is an asset that Maduhamati is renting to a local whoremaster. Moreover, there's a saintly Hindu widow: Seema Biswas (Bandit Queen), and the best actor in Water. Still, it's Ray who may be a worldwide star some day. (Mar 12, 6:30pm, CAL)

Cinequest runs through March 12 at Camera 12 and the California Theatre in San Jose. See for schedule details.

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