Solitary at Cinequest

If Memento were redone for the Lifetime network, it might come out something like Solitary. The puzzle-thriller plot follows a familiar trajectory of doling out little clues that ultimately are of no use in determining what’s really going on; the only way to do that is to stick around, let everything play out and find out what twist the writer came up with for the end. Whether it’s the none-too-subtle birdcage metaphor at the beginning, or the way everyone … talks … like … this, it’s obvious that there’s something wacky going on with this story of a woman who can’t leave her house without having a panic attack. When her husband says, “Nothing is going to happen, I promise” that’s when you know for sure something’s going to happen, and sure enough he disappears. A mysteriously locked spare room; lots of meaningful looks and cryptic exchanges with friends, police and therapists who show up at the door; and that spooky, spooky music all serve as constant reminders that All Is Not What It Seems. It’ll make you want to keep watching, but Twilight Zone used to pull this stuff off in a quarter of the time. (Steve Palopoli)

Solitary plays March 5 at 9:45pm at Camera 12.

Cinequest Mar 5: Maver-richard heads to I-80

Well, the one and only Maury Maverick, here staring at a pen as if it were a fecal sample, greets you this AM on the ever-so-early day of the writer. Since we live a little bit of distance from C’quest, it’s time to suit up and fight the traffic but we’re sure to miss a smidgeon of the 5 hours of talk for writers and them who want to be one; especially to see Terry Zwigoff weigh in on loads of topics at 1pm at SJSU-UT, that is to say the San Jose State Univerisity Theater.

So we’ll make it brief this morning.  Let’s work backwards: tonight is Strigoi at midnight for those uncertain on the difference between landlords and vampires; life in the Bay Area has already made that abundantly clear.

Two programs of shorts, 4-5; seen The Spine yet? That’s at Shorts 4, and it’s murderously good. Moreover, there are several other worthwhile cartoons on the bill. It’s 7pm at Cam 3. And that too is concurrent with The Student Prince at Old Heidelberg, 7 at the California Theatre. So, another scheduling conflict.

Let’s scan over the titles: Kill the Habit at noon, Cam 12, one of your dump-the-dead-body-in-time-for-the-briss films. Today, because time presses, we shall rely on “bullcrit,” the science of relying on someone else’s reviews, in this case MSG: “Lili Mirojnick (if I say she was in Cloverfield, will you remember which one? I don’t) plays Galia, who gets her recreational drugs from a particularly obnoxious dealer. After an argument about money, Galia clobbers the dealer with his favorite mineral specimen. What do to with the body? Galia enlists the help of her fried Soti (ditto, The Hangover), but the arrival of the dealer’s mouthy ex-wife, Cardamosa (the names are all exceedingly quirky), complicates the operation. Director Laura Neri provides some mild laughs as the trio wrestles with smuggling the dealer’s body past clueless onlookers—most of them coming from Maria-Elena Laas’ Rosario Dawson imitation as the uninhibited, sassy Latina Cardamosa. An interesting layer comes from the revelation that Soti has a lesbian crush on Galia. The film, however, suffers from an excess of small-camera jitters.”

The one I was a mite curious about, Cummings Farm runs, wouldn’t you know it, concurrent with Mr. Terry’s talk, so we’re going to miss that. You don’t have to: (1:30, Cam 12). Sounds like Humpday with a dozen people in it.

Desert of Forbidden Art has some kind of rhyming scheme with a movie I was about to sit down and watch, The Art of The Steal. It’s about the ultimate salon des refusees: a museum of modern art constructed in Uzbekistan to house the paintings of decadent western surrealists and so forth who declined to paint the USSR’s favorite types of art. Ben Kingsley, Sally Field and Edward Asner got involved in the mess. Intressant.

Say, here’s a title made for the cineaste: Love Life of a Gentle Coward (C12, 2pm). Maybe if it were “Gentle Maverick Coward”. Guy Maddin put it nicely, when describing the plot of The Unknown: “the cowardly way to win a woman’s heart is something we’ve all tried at one time or another.” It is a Cockey pick, and if you’re only going to see one Croatian film this year, etc.

Got to run, more shortly.

Mar 4: Thursday is the Thursday of weekdays.

by RvB

The upcoming Alice in Wonderland inspires new interest in the question, “Why is a raven like a writing desk?”
“Both have inky quills,” is  one answer suggested in Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Alice (one of those books written before the answer to every question about Lewis Carroll’s work was answered “it’s a subtle allegory about his love of photographing naked little girls”).
Here’s my answer: a raven pecks savagely, croaks, and scatters dung, and a writing desk is where a journalist pretends to be a raven.

Today’s line up at Cinequest: get the Dramamine because there’s four road movies, but the real prize in the package is the sighting of a new Alain Resnais:

Met a former San Josean at Brennan’s Sunday, and we both turned the pub into a version of Alice’s pool of tears recalling Tuesday night Hong Kong movies at the Towne theater. Don’t expect The Robbers (noon, Cam 12) to be an adequate crying-towel. MSG describes it: “a remote Chinese village long ago, two bandits—equal parts rakish and buffoonish—try to shake down a local man and his daughter. Soon, some imperial soldiers show up and do a lot worse. The bandits side with the villages, the villagers turn on the bandits, the bandits turn back against the villagers and so it goes in the rice paddies. Director Yang Shupeng milks the historical warrior genre mostly for laughs: an oft-repeated dirty joke, plenty of mugging, lots of exaggerated scowling and excessive shouting.”

And then there’s Bank Robbery (1:30, Cam 12). In “SP’s” view: “This strange little Estonian film is a bit misleading in its titling, so in order to keep viewers from the letdown that can come from wasting every minute waiting for the big heist, let me explain that mostly this is a road movie. The young Hannes is a kid growing up in the Estonian underclass, of which Andres Tuisk’s film doesn’t paint a pretty picture. He’s beat up by bullies and menaced by his dad. When his “uncle” Madis shows up after 10 years in jail, Hannes is fascinated by his stories of life as a bank robber and convinces Madis to let him go with him on a car trip.

Along the way they run into an alienated upper-class rebel girl, and Madis’ former fiance, and the ride takes some weird detours. Meanwhile, Hannes gets more and more enthralled with the idea of a big score. The film has the green glow that was all the rage in the ’90s, giving it a throwback feel. The acting is solid, especially Marika Barabantshikova as Hannes. He seems so young and innocent that it makes everything he goes through—and all the things he keeps hidden—all the more shocking.”

Blue Ridge (1pm, Cam 12) Director/writer/producer/editor Vincent Sweeney explores the world of the trailer park in the last Cinequest screening of this indie picture.

The documentary The Sonosopher (4pm; Cam 3) tells the story of a Beat-poet-turned-Mormon-professor who specializes in odd-ball incantory, meaning-free sound poems.

Border (4pm, Cam12) is an Armenian drama of a border incident, in which a blameless buffalo starts no end of trouble. A Charlie Cockey selection.

Krews (4:15, Cam 12)  was, I’d thought, a film about someone named Krews, in the same way that Kuffs is a movie about a guy named Kuffs. (Here, Kuffs is memorialized in the 50 Worst Movies Made in San Francisco article way, way back) Instead, it is apparently a gangsta spellng of “krew” meaning “team of thugs whose deliberate misspelling of even one-syllabled words shows their contempt for society’s laws”.

“SP” laments: “it starts out like a typical crooks-in-suits crime drama, bathed in the cold silver and blue of Collateral and every other L.A. thriller since Heat. But within the first 15 minutes, it goes crazy, throwing a finale’s worth of twists into the beginning and sending the movie in a whole other direction that has street gangs facing off with high-tech crackers. Will there be alliances, double-crosses and one big standoff where everybody points their guns at each other? You bet! A fifth-generation Tarantino rip-off isn’t the worst thing in the world, but about the time the twists start snowballing ludicrously in the last act, it feels like it is.”

The Orange Girl (5pm, Cam 12) Eva Dars’s Norse romance about that day you see a woman on the street car and think about her forever.

Eamon (6:45, Cam 12; RIGHT) ” EJ” comments: “It takes some time for the blond 6-year-old title character to be fully revealed as a demon, but halfway through the film, manic little Eamon drinks a Coke and turns into the cute Irish cousin of The Omen’s Damien. Even so, he isn’t the real monster in this quirky dark tragicomedy—that would be his mother, Grace, a disturbingly selfish and hurtful creature, who barely puts up with the boy while relentlessly criticizing her slavish husband. The first film to be released under the auspices of Ireland’s Catalyst Project, which gives young filmmakers a budget and total creative control, Eamon’s Oedipal tale told in a remote Irish seaside town is a sad commentary on how a family can become something dangerous.

The Escape (4:15; Cam 3) Katherine Windfield’s story of a Danish journalist who gets involved with the Afghan terrorist who sympathized with her.

Benjamin Bratt gets Maverick’d: Tonight, Bratt (TV’s Law and Order, Miss Congeniality) arrives to receive his Maverick Spirit award with La Mission, an indie film about a man in crisis, directed by his brother Peter Bratt. Bratt plays Che, an ex-con recovering alcoholic in San Francisco’s Mission District dealing with his drinking problem and working for Muni. The discovery Che makes about the secret life of his son, Jess (Jeremy Ray Valdez), brings him to the crisis point. Co-stars Talisa Soto Bratt, who was in the James Bond movie The Living Daylights.

And here’s how she looked. (LEFT, obviously.)

Director Bratt will introduce the film; a conversation with actor Bratt will follow.

And, with all due politeness, to the above I would say “See you, don’t want to be you.”  Look at what’s over at the Cameras 12 instead  Wild Grass (Les Herbes Folles, ABOVE) (Ca, 12. 7pm) It’s the one and only screening of the unpreviewed new one by Alain Resnais about a lost wallet found, and the  seemingly unlikely love story that results. It played at Cannes and then submerged.  Interestingly, this time around Resnais’ film seems to be buttressed less by the theater and more by the more rarefied  side of American TV: at a press conference Resnais commented that “Curb Your Enthusiasm” was an inspiration, and he hired X-Files composer Mark Snow to do the music. Hey, there’s even interest for Bond geeks denied a possible glimpse of the former Talisa Soto: Matheiu Almaric of Quantum of Solace is in it! James Bond hit him in the foot with a hatchet, man!

God is D_ad (7:15, Cam 12) Yep, and all of us are his murderers. As Guy Kibbee said in Rain, “Good ol’ Nietzsche.”  A road picture in which a comic book store clerk and his buddies mull over the nature of power on the way to a comic book convention, with a hot bored chick. And it looks a little something like this

Prima Primavera (9:15, Cam 12)  sounds like something you’d order at the Macaroni Grill, whereas indeed it is a Bulgaria to Serbia road picture about a pair of lamsters wanted for murder.

Semshook (9:45, Cam 12) is Siddharth Anand Kumar’s film about a Tibetan raised in India who decides to ride his motorcycle back to the mother country, though the Chinese border guards aren’t keen on that.

Shorts 5 and Shorts 6 (Cam 3) can make for 16 shorts in the course of one 7pm to midnight dose, with separate admission and intermission and all that.

Solitary (9:30, Camera 12)  A thriller about an agoraphobic; at this stage at Cinequest, theater-bound constant film watchers will know just how she (Amber Jaegar) feels.

And in way of farewell today: the best film of the new millenium, David Lynch’s A Goofy Movie, which goes out to the great Resnais. It’ll only take 2 minutes out of your life, but it’ll be a great 2 minutes you’ll remember on your deathbed.

Mar 3: Cinequest, further down the rabbit hole.

by RvB

Pardon my yawning. Up late last night watching Alice in Wonderland, about which more later; it may be the defining event of the Gothic Lolita gang’s generation;  but it’s ultimately another sequel and not really Alice as we know it. I feel more affinity with Tim Burton than any other filmmaker alive, as far as shared backgrounds, influences, and references are concerned, and at the same time it’s got to be noted that there’s already been an ideal 3-D animated version of Alice and here’s the director’s website.

Depp: unsettling (Peter Sellers, sort of, this time around, just like he was Vincent Price, sort of, in S. Todd.) Anyway, more later.

Today a scad of one day only films: at 6:30, the local premiere of The Secret of Kells. It’s a benefit for San Jose’s Sister City Cultural Exchange Program which accounts for the price: $20 general, $12 Camera Cinema Club members, $10 students.
The secret is: how did this modestly produced Irish film end up as dark horse candidate for the Best Animated Film Oscar against Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Up? Don’t know the answer, because I haven’t seen it yet; all I’ve heard is praise for it from animators, and then there’s this.
Blogs are the place for tangents, yes? I noticed that they’re flaunting Tim Burton in the upcoming doc Waking Sleeping Beauty. It’s odd how little Disney at the time went with Burton’s wonderfully sinister idea for the film version of my favorite kids book, Lloyd Alexander’s five volume Prydain Chronicles  (as opposed to what we got, 1985’s The Black Cauldron, sometimes named as the worst full length animated cartoon Disney ever released).
On the basis of what we’re glimpsing here, one can can only wish that The Secret of Kells’ Tomm Moore had directed Alexander’s books.
Now, as for the unstoppable fest today:

Cleanflicks is at a special screening 11:45 this morning. The Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival is presenting a one night only screening of Ajami, the Israeli film about the gangsta life in Jaifa; co-written by Palestinian and Jewish writers, it’s up for the best foreign film Oscar this year. It’s sold out but there may be rush tickets: 7:30 at the RetroDome, 1694 Saratoga Ave. You can’t walk there from downtown, I assure you.

Raton, by Team Stroganoff and rising San Jose filmmaker Jacob Rangel, is running before the 6:45 screening of Professor. Raton is worth seeing; it’s a remarkably creative way of dealing with the constraints of the 48 Hour Film Festival. As for Professor: This documentary about a University of Iowa prof is an example of what Queen Victoria was complaining about when she said that Prime Minister Gladstone addressed her as if she were a public meeting.

Also today: some talked-abouts: Babnik (7:30, Cam 12), Hell is Other People (7, Cam 3), Gabi On The Roof in July (5, Cam 12). Am very impressed by Paprika Steen’s actress on the verge of a nervous breakdown film Applause (above; 1pm, C12).

Let’s also plug Shorts 3 at 4:15.
Clandestine by Gideon Kennedy and Marcus Rosentrater is a fascinating Jay Rosenblatt-style trip down memory lane with help from the Prelinger and other archives. The mystery of sinister “number talkers” is used to contrast the secrets of the narrator’s father: he was another one of those 1950s men much better at dealing with a ham radio than with people in the room. Still: “My father was not, as they say, a member of the second oldest profession”—that is, a spy.

The directors have a big idea here: the way a covert life matches the mystery of the strange numerical codes bounced off the ionosphere by short-wave radios; in short, the father is a code that can’t be broken. There’s a trend in autobiographical indie film, in which it’s explained that a parent’s divorce is obviously the most terrible thing that ever happened in the filmmaker’s life. I don’t at all want to dismiss Clandestine as such, yet I can’t buy its equation that betraying a marriage is the same thing as betraying a country.
For those preferring marital fidelity, the Brazilian Undertow Eyes by Petra Costa, is a great solace: it’s about old love, ornamented by poetry, and yet the poetry does nothing to obscure the candor and trust of an aged married couple who tell their stories. Fans of Heddy Honigmann’s O Amor Natural are especially recommended to see it.
Fereshteh Joghataei’s How Green Was Our Valley is, in one word, heartbreaking. An Iranian tribe is destroyed root and branch by a hydroelectric project, and you don’t have to be an agriculturalist to see that what they’re going to get isn’t as good as what they had.
And Notes on the Other: a pungent short on the cult of Hemingway, which includes a visit to Papa’s bronze slab in Idaho, the bull-running in Pamplona, and a Key West competition where a group of odd portly snowbeards impersonate the novelist. A subtle lesson to all would-be machos.

Cinequest Mar 2

So tonight is The Girl With the Exploding Dragon Tattoo. Oh, wait, they’re different films. One must admit a tattoo of an exploding dragon would be sweet. 9pm at the magnificent California Theater: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, based on the Scandinavian best seller about a pair of investigators tracking down the real story of a ghastly string of murders.
By contrast, The Exploding Girl (Cam 12, 7pm) is almost like a palimpsest of Gabi/Roof/July, with Zoe Kazan (the writer gal in Orson Welles and Me, and DiCaprio’s girl-on-the-side in Revolutionary Road). Kazan is Ivy, an NYC lady who has to put up a friend for the summer. Whether or not an affair will break out: that is the question. Kazan got best actress at Tribeca for this Bradley Rust Gray film. Trivia: Gray’s movie Salt (filmed in Iceland!) was a visual influence on Sin Nombre, according to director Cary Fukunaga.

Earlier, at 7pm, Dr. Deepak Chopra will let the shining light of his countenance dispel all bad vibes at the festival. He’s at the California Theatre to sort of, I don’t know, wash over all of us, and to receive a Life of a Maverick award.
Later at night, if you want those bad vibes back, is a documentary about the discovery of hidden relics of the Holocaust at Maidenek concentration camp Buried Prayers, at 9:15. Or you could just go see some cartoons.

Shorts Program 4 has several standouts, but mong the animated work there is a shocker by Chris Landreth, The Spine, just about my favorite things at this entire fest. Landreth got the Oscar in 2005 for Ryan, whose story about his fellow Oscar nominee, the animator Ryan Larkin, whose life was ruined by substance abuse. The new one was a little too tough for the academy, apparently…a frightening story of a discovery at a group therapy session and  one of those films that proves (Jarrod W. should pardon the expression) hell is other people.

Gabi on the Roof in July review, by RvB

Nudity has been called “the most inexpensive F/X” and Gabi on the Roof in July (Mar 3, 5pm, Cam 12) uses it thoroughly. But after a while you get used to the jaybirdocity of Gabi (Sophia Takal, who co-directed) and get more interested in the arguments she and co-director/co-writer Lawrence Michael Levine make about ways of conducting oneself.

Two figures face each other over the gulf of being twenty-something: 20 year old Gabi, an Oberlin student just about to launch into her wildest decade. Her brother Sam (Levine) is just about 30. It’s summer in Brooklyn…cinematographer Aaron Kovalchik envisions it as one long roof-party, humid and pleasing, but with indifferent conversation and never enough beer. (The sound is also very professional; let no man call Gabi… mumblecore.)

Into this milieu comes the witty art brat Gabi, to mooch three months of lodgings off of Sam, a serious painter on the cusp of either making it or breaking it. Gabi wants into the art racket herself. She calls loafing, playing nude Twister and getting her body covered with whipped cream her own form of art. What Gabi really is, despite her genuine charm, is selfish. But is Sam much better?
The blame for these two characters’ flaws is (inevitably) placed on Sam and Gabi’s divorced parents. But the ways of the acting out are significantly different. Gabi’s willfulness is like the last flush of childhood; she carries around a pet hamster, for instance. Sam’s own cheating on his faithful girlfriend with the significantly-named Chelsea (Amy Seimitz), a sharp-featured, affluent art world scenester, has a different rationale: that affair is a mix of fascination and ambition.

The movie has a great ear for art-gabble. At the gallery where she works, Chelsea comments, “When the visitors come in, we want them to feel that they’re immersed in New York art culture, so they don’t have to feel that they have to search it out.” And the incident of an older art gallery manager’s meltdown at Sam’s studio has the air of a 100% true story.

Gabi’s deliberate sabotage of a job interview is both a taste of her tangy charm and her maddening self-centeredness. Takal’s Gabi is the opposite of the typical healing-pixie, endemic to the indie movie. Levine’s very good acting recalls Elliot Gould in 1970s films; Gould was the actor with the best bullshit detector, yet who always played characters who always seemed to fool themselves.

Gabi on the Roof in July is hipster Rohmer, with locovorism and nudism adding spice to laziness. It’s a celebration and critique of that stage of life when one travels in packs and sleeps in piles, like hamsters.

In subsequent films, Levine might want to thin that pack a little. Gabi on the Roof in July goes wrong-foot-forward by starting us out at a dinner party with characters who don’t all end up important to the plot. Keeping us a little off-put at first might be part of the design, though. These characters are New Yorkers, no matter how idle they look, and they’re always trying to find out who is whom, always measuring each others’ marital status, social importance, and sexual preference. Ultimately, Gabi on the Roof in July is an unusually strong example of starting-out filmmaking. This movie is about the self-indulgentsia, but it’s not in the least self-indulgent.

Nancy Kwan at Cinequest

Nancy Kwan, star of “Flower Drum Song” and “The World of Suzie Wong” appeared in person at Cinequest over the weekend for two screenings of “To Whom It May Concern: Ka Shen’s Journey,” a new documentary about her life and work. On the right she poses with Cinequest’s Halfan Hussey (left), Kathleen Powell and director Brian Jamieson.

(Photos courtesy Mitchell Weinstock, left, and Mike Gendimenico, right)

Cleanflix at Cinequest

Tonight’s best bet is definitely “Cleanflix,” a surprising documentary. At first, I thought there would be no trouble looking down my nose at the Mormon entrepreneurs who wanted to take the sex and violence out of DVD releases of Hollywood hits. How dare they invade the sacred artistic decisions of film directors? Admittedly, some of their legal arguments couldn’t possible hold water (particularly the notion on “one to one” use—i.e., we buy the DVD, we modify the DVD and rent only that DVD, ergo we can modify it however we like because we’re not really making copies).

However, they Clean Flicks people did have a point that a lot of renegade music downloaders are making: There’s a market that wants this product, and if the corporations won’t fill the niche, we will, and copyright be damned. And after all, directors have always stood still for airplane and TV versions of their movies with the edgier parts toned down.

Finally, though, the human drama of Mormon vs. Mormon outweighs the copyright conundrums. The filmmakers must have spent a long time assembling their endings, and fate smiled on them with a turn of events they couldn’t have scripted in their wildest dreams.

Don’t miss it. Tonight (March 1) at 7:15pm at Camera 12.

Terry Zwigoff Is The Anti-Chopra

Happy news that a gen-u-wine maverick is coming on Friday to the Day of the Writer; unto us is delivered Mr. Terry Zwigoff, who will be put to the questions by James Dallesandro. Zwigoff—interviewed here in 2001 and here in 2006 by moi—is pretty much the most distinguished filmmaker in San Fran, with two documentaries and two feature films, most recently Art School Confidential (left). Originally a cartoonist, Zwigoff’s coming down as a benefit for PETA; it’s a cause he’s been involved with ever since Funny Aminals comics in 1972, also the source for the prototype of Maus by Art Spiegelman. His heartily misanthropic cinema cancels out the feel-good blather of Deepak Chopra, whom Cinequest is giving talking room tomorrow night at the California Theatre. I’d be there, but I’m far too naturally high.

Cinequest Mar 1

These quieter days are the best ones for the festival, as far as networking goes. The program today includes: The Days of Desire (12:30, Camera 12), which promises Bela Tarr-style Hungarian angst in a film that, synopsis-wise, sounds like The Maid.

One of Charlie Cockey’s picks, Border (4pm, Cam 12) concerns an incident of a buffalo wandering to the wrong side of a guard tower; frankly, Armenia is one of those places that has such a eons-long history of story telling that I’d go to any movie from there (like Iran, actually).

And Cleanflix (7:15 Cam 12) has as its subject a video store in Salt Lake City that edited out the swears and the skin; I see that Neil LaBute–one of the absolutely nicest people I have ever met in this business, believe it or don’t–is one of the interviewees.

Scene report on Super Hero Party Clown, anyone?

This is a light day at Cinequest, and the weather should cooperate a little. If  you feel like a walk, head down West Santa Clara Street, the busy main stem that crosses S. 1st Street; ask someone which way the train station is, to make sure you’re going in the right direction.

Follow W. Santa Clara St across the Guadalupe Creek, past the world-famous “Shark Tank,” H-P Pavilion. Keep walking under the railway aqueduct. Santa Clara Avenue become The Alameda. 1066 The Alameda is San Jose’s best used book store Recycle Books.

I’m presuming that anyone who is a film fan is also a used book fan, though I know that’s presumptious. Anyway, they have an excellent selection on film history. Across the street at 1081 The Alameda is Greenlee’s Bakery, a family-run establishment that makes cinammon bread that ought to win a Nobel prize. You’ll be able to smell it coming. This is about a 3 mile round walk from downtown…more shortly.