Cinequest XXIII Reviews
Cinequest rolls to a big finish this week, with more features, a night of silent comedy and some special events. The most notable guests are Maverick Spirit Award winners chef Dominique Cress (Fri, 5Š7pm at the Fairmont), and Salman Rushdie, the famed and hounded writer, who appears for the closing night feature, Midnight's Children, based on his novel (Saturday at 6pm). The films screen at Camera 12 (C12), San Jose Repertory Theatre (Rep) and the California Theatre (Calif).
Playing at the noble California Theatre with the proto-Spider-Man feature Safety Last with Harold Lloyd is Cops (1922), a Buster Keaton short. It is the one movie that you'd want to use to introduce a child to the essence of silent comedy (although Cops also appeals to adults who know what it's like to have the police in your face). In the first half, the vigorous but immobile-faced Keaton commences an accidental crime wave, pinching a wallet, stealing a horse-drawn wagon and knocking a traffic policeman cold. The rampage expands wildly in the second half. Buster's hopped-up horse interrupts a police parade, and he gets mistaken for an anarchist bomb thrower. Buster is chased by hundreds of angry policemen—not the shambling clowns of Keystone but faceless and immaculately uniformed police in battalions. They roll in on all sides, emerging from behind parked cars, swarming like ants. It's first-rate slapstick, but it's more than slightly frightening, anticipating the ranks of uniformed men in Triumph of the Will. For that matter, anyone who feels Christopher Nolan invented the idea of using large squads of cops for drama in his Batman movies needs to see this. And anyone who cares about film needs to see the peerlessness of Keaton as both physical comedian and lone existential figure running for his life.
Fri, 3/8, at 7pm (Calif)
Goldfish Go Home
(Japan) In ruminative tone crossed with CG glitter fest, Goldfish Go Home is something like a live-action Studio Ghibli film and was likely meant for a children's audience in Japan. In a depressed seaside small town, a group of misfits tries to make a place for themselves. A father and a daughter working an indebted goldfish farm face dispossession when the conniving low-comic mayor (Takashi Sansano) wants to seize the land for a tourist-grabbing amusement park. A neighboring family of Brazilian immigrants, whose youngest son (Takeshi Nagata) is a pudgy reject, are left homeless when Mom loses her job at a food-packing company. That's when a miraculous, glowing blue goldfish called a "tensei" materializes to seemingly save the day—though in this bittersweet semi-fantasy film, it'll take community organizing, not miraculous occurrences, to set things right. Forgivably cute.
The Playback Singer
(U.S.) Both rewarding and funny, The Playback Singer is one of the highlights of this year's Cinequest. Director Suju Vijayan tells a humane story of a pair of men facing failure. One is 38-year-old Ray (Ross Partridge), currently spinning his wheels in his newest career as an architectural designer; his wife, Priya (Navi Rawat), is patiently putting up with him as he works with his only current client, a friend who wants a backyard jungle gym. Into Ray and Priya's small Van Nuys home arrives Priya's wayward father, Ashok (the well-known Indian actor and singer Piyush Mishra). The old man, a performer of classical Indian music, is what we call in America "a handful"—a demanding heavy drinker who is stunned to find out his public isn't there to greet him. The melting-pot movie and the reparenting movie alike glut the film-festival circuit. Yet this assured feature film—reminiscent of the work of Thomas McCarthy (Win Win, The Visitor)—charms with its tender, low-down qualities. The father-in-law and son-in-law bond over mutual irritations (they're both mutterers). And Mishra's Frank LangellaŠlike suaveness and testiness are revealed in the most off-hand lines. The rich score is by Jacob Yoffe.
Tue, 3/5, at 11:45am (C12)
(U.S.) Sexy, but ultimately only Red Shoes Diary sexy. "This story is as real as you want it to be" says the title, which at first seems too cute, and then seems too mean to complain about. Girl meets boy: Delilah (soaps vet Natalie Zea) is a "fantasy facilitator" (i.e., 976 Dial-a-Wank operator). She reads Anna Karenina and plays with a chess board to show she's no fool. She gets rung up by Samson (Jeffey Vincent Parise), a would-be writer who has a pistol to show he's tough and a pet canary to show he's sensitive. The on-the-phone romance has been done before, in martyred Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh's 1-900 and Nicholson Baker's Vox. The question of whether or not to meet gives this story the friction you need in erotica, and that resistance is buffered with the Anais Nin thing in Samson and Delilah's mutual Fantasyland (romantic Budapest before the Great War with a little black-and-white A Farewell to Arms). One always hopes for some kind of push and pull between the female director (actor/writer Terri Hanauer) and the male scripter (longtime TV writer Peter Lefcourt) and a quarrel over what the two sexes consider arousing. It's like that here, and it's always nice to see the (none-too-explicit) erotic matched with the poetic and fanciful instead of with brutality and big money.
Thu, 3/7 at 5pm (C12)
(U.S.) Slick, weepy and discursive. The anti-This Is Cuba is shaped for an audience of Fox News watchers. It begins with shocking evidence that Fidel Castro's Cuba is Communist, though this documentary purports to be a memory piece about the refugees whose families were severed when they fled the revolution. It commences with what seems like an hour of political hit-ad-like historical review: newspaper clippings with Communist lies in red glowing letters, and History's Greatest Monster Fidel captioned with blood-red subtitles. We at last get to the matter at hand: interviews with (among others) actors Andy Garcia and Steven Bauer, Judge Raoul G. Cantero III (Batista's grandson, saying that maybe his grandfather wasn't as evil as he was painted) and National Book Award winner Carlos Eire. Eire was honored for his memoir of the terrible Operation Peter Pan—the airlifting of 14,000 children to the United States amid the panic that Castro was going to ship middle-class Cuban children to Soviet Russia for brainwashing. While it's likely the rift between the United States and Cuba will only be healed over Fidel's dead body, this kind of demonization and biased history serves nothing except to soothe the feelings of the dispossessed. Speak, Memory, it ain't. Oddly, the highlights are clips from a witty-looking '70s sitcom titled Que Pasa, U.S.A.?
Sat, 3/9, at 6:30pm (C12)
(U.S.) A few years ago, the Fake Wood Wallpaper collective out of Atlanta arrived in San Jose with probably my favorite Cinequest movie ever, Blood Car, and won an award for it. They're back with a follow-up, written and directed by Mike Brune, who starred in Blood Car. It's a completely different film, however, showcasing the vastly different comic sensibilities of Brune and Blood Car writer-director Alex Orr. Congratulations! is just as weird but not in the same adrenalized, in-your-face way. Instead, it's quietly odd, much more David Lynch than Roger Corman. In fact, Twin Peaks is not a bad point of reference for this mystery about a missing kid, especially with the deadpan delivery of familiar character actors John Curran and Jack McGee as cops on the case. They get to go Leslie Nielsen a few times, with stony deliveries of ridiculous lines. But other than that, this is subtle stuff, right down to the semiserious point to be made about obsession and loneliness. (Steve Palopoli)
(Cuba) Cuba's entry for the 2012 Oscars. Director Ian Padron makes it a tale of two cities, both of them Havana, in the form of the class divide in the People's Republic observed on the May Day holiday. Two school lads, both of them dressed in Young Pioneers kerchiefs, spend the day together: the young son (Ernesto Escalona) of a well-off musician and his wife, and the poor kid (Andy Fornanis) whom he mocked in the schoolyard. The after-school-special plotting doesn't get much more developed than that; Habanastation has the air of a movie that could be sold to kids above age 9, though what might have given distributors cold feet is the story of the fate of animals in a poor country (including pigeons raised to be sold for Santeria sacrifice). This is a valuable movie in that it gives a vision of a city still legally forbidden to Yankees: both the cozy well-off suburbs and the slums where darker-skinned kids do their best to make their way. (Richard von Busack)
Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself
(U.S.) This straightforward documentary recalls a major figure in the "new journalism" of the '60s. After making his literary bones as the co-founder of The Paris Review in the 1950s, Plimpton became a pioneer of participatory reportage. Tall, skinny and guilelessly patrician, Plimpton tried a variety of professional occupationssports primarilyto see how the common man (although he was anything but common) would fare at the highest levels of competition and performanceand then wrote bestsellers about his experiences. The method worked well in sports, and Plimpton's most famous effort, Paper Lion, about taking snaps at quarterback for the Detroit Lions, is a classic. After a while, though, the format turned into a gimmick, as Plimpton tried everything from trapeze to standup comedy. Period footage gives a flavor of his exploits so that the talking heads don't dominate the film. The crucial moment comes in the account of Plimpton's most immersive experience: helping to wrestle the gun from the hand of Sirhan Sirhan moments after he shot Bobby Kennedy. Plimpton somewhat shamelessly flogged his own celebrity status (mainly in pursuit of funds to keep the Review going). One remarkable section shows Plimpton's TV adswhen was the last time an author of distinction was considered famous enough to hawk cars and garage-door openers? (Michael S. Gant)
(U.S.) Documentary about the remarkable feat of Steven Wampler, a Southern Californian with cerebral palsy who ratcheted his way up the face of El Capitan in Yosemite, inch by inchseveral thousand feet above the valley floor. The purpose was to raise money for a Lake Tahoe camp for differently abled children. The climb is a daunting one even for people with control of their limbsat least two dozen people have died in the attempt. "It goes from Disneyland to the morgue sometimes," says one of the regular climbers there. Wampler and his wife, Elizabeth, are credited as co-directors, hence the frequent cuts to the base camp where his loyal wife and two children are watching this ordeal. The novelty of this true-life story is bound to make it a favorite of the festival. The vertigo-inducing sequences off the cliff face would do justice to an action film. Unfortunately, the style has the canned manipulativeness of TV news: cuts to newscasters again and again reiterating the historic nature of this climb, celebs (including a literal walk-on by Will Ferrell) wishing Wampler well and guides explaining what will be waiting for this climber at the top. All this, and the uplifting music, tell you what you're going to feel watching this movie, way before you can feel it on your own. (RvB)