Cinequest, Feb. 28


Day Seven at the Festival

The films to watch for on another busy day at Cinequest include the twist-filled crooks-in-suits crime drama Krews, a mixed bag with some potential. 6:45pm at Camera 12.

Also Heiran, an affecting and compassionate family drama from Iran: First-time director Shalizeh Arefpour “unfolds this tragic tale with no discernible melodrama.” 2pm at Camera 12.

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

Peepers, whose Canadian filmmakers, although jet-lagged, made the rounds at Metro’s Friday-night Cinequest party at So. First Billiards, is the voyeuristic-delight tale of a bunch of roof crawlers who start spying on their neighbors. The movie is enlivened by the “skin scenes and Montreal’s sturdy tradition of improv comedy,” says Richard von Busack. 9:15pm at Camera 12.

Read reviews of these and more.

Cinequest, Bummer Summer

There’s a lot of talk about digital this and digital that, but sometimes the old ways are the best. Walking down South First Street to Metro’s Friday party at South First Billiards, I was hand-promoted by a young man handing out postcards for Bummer Summer.

So just to return the favor, here’s Jody Amable’s review:

Bummer Summer

(U.S.; 79 min.) John Hughes constructed a nearly perfect world; cinema teenagers are still re-creating it today, always making sure there are a beginning, middle and an end to their perfect problems. Zach Weintraub’s Bummer Summer, on the other hand, is legit. This is what teen life is like: acne, awkward pauses and all. After 17-year-old Isaac breaks up with his very vanilla girlfriend, he embarks on a road trip with his brother, Ben, and Ben’s ex, Lila. It sounds like something that’s been done a million times, but Bummer Summer surprises. There’s little rhyme or reason, and some characters disappear almost as soon as they’re introduced. The meandering plot and constant coming and going make for a wistful and enjoyable representation of summer break, in real time. This is a world premiere for Cinequest. (JA)

Feb. 27 at 6:45pm, C12; Feb. 28 at 4:30pm, C12; March 3 at 12:15pm, C12

Cinequest 2/27

So Nancy Kwan will be showing up in San Jose for tonight’s world premiere of the documentary on her life: To Whom It May Concern: Ka Shen’s Journey; and she’ll be there for the subsequent screening on Sunday at 7. There are some elders who still refer to the dress that Cantonese call a cheong-sam, and the Shanghai people call a qi pao as a “Suzy Wong”. That’s because of the way Kwan wore one in The World of Suzy Wong, a 1960 Hong Kong romance film by Richard Quine (Bell, Book and Candle).

This story of a Hong Kong call girl involved with an architect turned artist (William Holden) was considered the In the Mood for Love in its day; Kwan followed up this hit with the San Francisco-set Rogers and Hammerstein musical Flower Drum Song and thence to a lot of TV (Kung Fu, Hawaii 5-0) and a second career in Hong Kong cinema.

She’s bound to have some stories to tell; Matt Helm fans will be happy to note that she was in The Wrecking Crew with Dino, and Sharon Tate.  Though one winces to recall that her character was named “Yu-Rang”. It was a different era, and Kwan survived the stereotypes well.

Also today: the 3-D Forum at 1:30 at Camera 12; the slacker comedy The Bone Man; Jarod Whaley’s Hell is Other People at the Rep, 4:15; a repeat of The Real Revolutionaries, and an 11:45 pm screening of the talky caper film Little Fish, Strange Pond by Gregory Dark (ex of The Dark Brothers, of New Wave Hookers, et all) an ex-Stanford MFA now renowned as a video director.

Nancy Kwan at Cinequest

The email came late last night: The weekend world premiere showings of To Whom It May Concern: Ka Shen’s Journey, a documentary about star Nancy Kwan, will be graced by the ultimate guest: Kwan herself.

Born in 1939 in Hong Kong, Kwan was a ballet student when producer Ray Stark nabbed her for a breakout role in The World of Suzie Wong with William Holden in 1960. She followed with Flower Drum Song and became a pioneer Asian star for about a decade until she went back to Hong Kong.

The film shows tonight at 6:45pm and tomorrow at 7pm, both times at the San Jose Rep. Kwan will be in attendance for both showings.

The New Distribution

Cinequest Film Distribution Panel

It’s here. We know it’s here. We know it’s the future. But we don’t know how to make it pay.

Such was the consensus at this afternoon’s (Feb. 26) panel at SJ Rep about the new frontiers of film distribution.  As moderator Peter Belcito of Film Finders put it, “The march of technology is implacable and relentless. Technology doesn’t care.” Which means that filmmakers and distributors need to think fast about how to make the transition from an old model (theatrical release) that still brings in the lion’s share of the dollars and a new model (digital) that doesn’t pay very well yet. If that sounds like the squeeze enjoyed by the newspaper industry—well, the panelist were happy to share the analogous misery.

The solution seems to lie in a few areas: the iTunes streamlined model of easy purchase at a single, easy-to-digest price or some form of TV-connected subscription model that allows for a variety of inputs to the living room. Most of the panelists seemed to agree that the TV set still offered (and would for a long time offer) the best home movie-watching experience. Already, major players (Best Buy, Wal-Mart) are entering the fray with new TVs that will come automatically embedded with services selling content, which means that indie distributors need to figure out a way to jump on the train before they get left behind. Everyone agreed that ease of use for consumers would be paramount—make it as easy as possible to set up an account so that users don’t have to do a lot of clicking and thinking every time they want to see a movie.

The pace of change has been fast enough that the representative from Jaman, the “iTunes of indies,” said that the site is going through a full transformation and will be relaunched in the near future. Maybe, speaking as one user, they will make the site more compatible with Macs this time around.

Cinequest: Feb 26

First, let us apologize to Blanchard Ryan, whom I incorrectly accused of bailing on an appearance in the 20-year history of Cinequest we published last week.  A reader writes in and notes that she was not only was Ryan there, she discussed the importance of keeping dreams alive. All apologies.

So: today is when some damned serious decisions have to be made. One of these is not whether or not to see Camembert Rose.

Cheese (as in cheesecake) is available instead through Gabi on the Roof in July (7:30, C

amera 12) which promises comedy about postgrad angst and promiscuity, lots of nudity and a whipped cream scene honoring the famous photo of Dolores Erickson. In real life, I have found this process to be relentlessly sticky, so I was happy to hear that the material in question was shaving cream. (Hello, Benny Bell fans.)

Directors Lawrence Michael Levine and Sophia Takai’s film includes a cast that’s been in shared Venn Diagrams with Joe Swanberg. I’m not saying it’s mumblecore, but you might want to bring an ear trumpet. The debut of the pretty funny Montrealaise peeping-tom comedy Peepers, shortly afterward at 9:30, should ensure you get an evening’s worth of scopophilia.

There was a time before nude scenes, you know, when the very sight of Mae Marsh in a loose nightgown was enough to make nostrils flare, and the one-time-only screening of The Merry Widow (7pm, California Theatre) might be worth attending instead, especially since Dennis James will be rattling the walls with the Wurlitzer. Erich von Stroheim’s story of middle-European decadence, prostitution and foot fetishes epitomizing an era when the cinema was something you could take the whole family to see. This one is hard, perhaps impossible, to track down on DVD, and the grand theater itself is part of the experience.
And just to complicate matters: Alejandro Adams’ Babnik, a sex and violence free experimental film about the skin trade also debuts at 7pm at the Rep.
Also recommended today: The Tijuana Project (7:15pm, Camera 12), the sheep movie (2:15pm, Camera 12), and, mostly for gorehounds, the intelligent shocker 7 Days at 11:45 (Cam 12).

Just to mention an outside-the-walls screening coming up, Arusi: Persian Wedding is a documentary about cross-cultural differences that break out when a young Iranian-American couple get married. If you think you might have heard about the film, it’s becaue it was screened on PBS in ’09. Director Marjan Tehrani is going to be on hand: Wed, Mar 3 at 7pm at San Jose State’s Engineering Auditorium, Room 189. Free.

And meanwhile, just to make matters more complex, the Stanford Theatre‘s excellent Akira Kurosawa retrospective continues apace 20 miles north of Cinequest central.

Not enough time to see everything? Welcome to my world.

Cinequest Best Bet, Feb. 25

This afternoon’s best bet, according to Metro critic Steve Palopoli, is the Argentine head-scratcher

Green Waters

(Argentina; 90 min.) The bastard child of some scandalous three-way between Hitchcock thrillers, Polanski mind-melt flicks and ’70s paranoia films, Green Waters just might be the most intense movie you’ll see at Cinequest. First-time Argentine writer-director Mariano De Rosa has taken the simple story of a family on a seaside vacation (at Green Waters, thus the title) and turned it into a sometimes funny, sometimes creepy—but always riveting—portrait of one father seemingly on the road to Crazy Town. Or is he? That’s the question the true paranoia gems keep you asking, right? And there’s a quiver of question marks riddling the first half, as father Juan (Alenjandro Fiore Milagrow) seems to be ruining the family vacation with his obsessive suspicion about his teenage daughter, Laura (Julieta Morav), and a mysterious, good-looking stranger she meets at a gas station who seems to have followed them to their destination. Incredibly, the film only gets more enigmatic and freaky from there, as whispers, glances, cruel smiles and power plays threaten to crack Juan up for good. Is everyone really out to get him? I’m not entirely sure even now, but the end is a shocker no matter how you look at it. Green Waters has more psychosexual subtext than anything I’ve seen out of the United States in a long time. (SP)

Feb. 25 at 4pm at Camera 12

Party Time at Cinequest

The gang from local short film “Raton” (profiled not long ago in Metro) were among the celebrities and film lovers at the opening night party at Cinequest after the screening of “The Good Heart.

See more photos of the party.

Cinequest, Critic’s Pick for Feb. 25

Road to Sangam

(India; 135 min.) When India’s greatest martyr died, he asked that his ashes be divided into 20 parts and sent off with the flow of the nation’s 20 rivers. Amit Rai’s proudly humanist film is a fiction, yet it’s based on the real-life discovery, some 60 years on, of a cask of the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi. In Utter Pradesh, a terrorist bombing sets off repression by the Indian police against the Muslims; meanwhile, a humble but farsighted Muslim mechanic in Allahabad gets the job to fix the engine of a vintage V8 truck—little realizing that this truck had once been used long ago to transport some of Gandhi-ji’s ashes, and that the authorities hope to use the truck in the upcoming ceremony. But a general strike by outraged Muslim merchants threatens the mechanic’s task. Star Paresh Rawal and the regal Om Puri engage in a discourse about the partitioning of India that’s real food for thought. (Richard von Busack)

Feb. 25 at 1pm at Camera 12

Cinequest Day 2

So, everyone like the sheep movie? Not, according to Alejandro Adams, and we’ll be interested to hear protests and outrage from other than PETA activists, thanks.

Today, we have an array of 16 films, which, if nimbly arranged can provide four to five movies in a day’s watching. I thought I saw everything this year, but today I only saw one of them (the indifferent if pretty Camembert Rose, which was a little too square for me; and naturally the translations don’t carry the flavor of the original Hungarian, in which I am absolutely fluent in every way, isn’t everyone?). However I did an interview on the premiering (at 7pm at the California Theatre) Silicon Valley documentary The Real Revolutionaries (read the interview here).

A strong lineup to start the day off. I like looking for Charlie Cockey’s picks because he’s been around the block.
Now: 1pm we’ve got Road to Sangam: pretty good Indian fictional film about the hauling of Gandhi’s ashes. 1:30 at Camera 12 is Cooking History, recommended by Cockey his own self; a study of how armies march on their stomachs. 2:15 is Bank Robbery from Estonia, also a Cockey pick.

Another highlight would seem to be Green Waters (above; 4-5:30) one of the faves of the Metro staff–an elliptical Argentine comedy of paranoia. Or you could just take in 3 solid hours of shorts at the Camera 3 in two installments. Everyone will tell you it’s as hard to make a bad movie as it is to make a good one (to say nothing about the hardness of watching a bad one). But it’s harder to make a short movie bad.

So, also, an advance word on a CreatTV reception Sat night, Feb 27, 6:30-8:30; CreaTV’s studios in downtown SJ, a chance for local filmmakers to hobnob without the music blasting. The catch is that it’s limited to 75 people and you need to RSVP to by Friday, February 26 at 12 noon.

Visine is available at the Wallgreen’s at the corner of S. First and Santa Clara. As always, we recommend Cinebar on San Fernando as a refuge from too much networking; there, there are no people who will comment about your incipient alcoholism when you’re soothing your jet-lagged nerves with a beer at 3pm.

Out of towners, you want to see something cool? Check out the view from the 7th floor of the Martin Luther King library, 150 E. San Fernando at 4th. A quick elevator ride up: very supervillain/hero/last scene confrontation.  We’re quite proud of our library, actually.