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[whitespace] Gilded Artistry: Italian director Dario Argento puts elaborate finishing touches on his cinematic engines of horror.

Cinequest Top Picks

Beresina or the Last Days of Switzerland
(Switzerland; subtitled)

A unique, ticklish Swiss political farce about an ancient general named Sturzenegger (Martin Benrath), bereft by the end of the Cold War (too bad he didn't have a Hoover Institute to roost at). Though the old man has one foot in the grave, he's still a ringleader of a paramilitary group waiting to take violent control of the most placid, stodgiest country in the world. He so tremblingly anticipates that great day that he loves to practice his assassination technique with the help of a pretty Russian call girl named Irina (Elena Panova). Irina is the perfect companion for the general; her patriotic love of Switzerland is so overblown that she's constantly misled by her other glib tricks, who falsely promise her Swiss citizenship. Among her users: a meek, social-climbing cardiologist named Waldwogel (Ulrich Noethen) and his chum, a snooty dress designer and part-time procuress named Madame De (Geraldine Chaplin), whose haute couture creations look like the inflatable suit Woody Allen wears in Sleeper. One sequence of the rallying of the octogenarian nationalists goes on way too long--but Panova is sexy and appealing, the film has a rich happy ending and director Daniel Schmid fills the film with unpredictable wit. Schmid will appear at this screening. (Richard von Busack)

Plays Feb. 25 at 7:45pm; Feb. 26 at 4:45pm; and Feb. 27 at 4:15pm--all at the AMC Saratoga.

Beyond the Mat
(U.S.; 102 min.)

One might imagine that professional wrestling doesn't need documenting--what you see is what you get. Barry W. Blaustein's documentary, however, discovers some telling moments during an extended trip through the upper reaches of the WWF and the lower rungs of fly-by-night tours. In addition to an extended visit with big-name masochist Mankind (who turns out to be a loving father), Beyond the Mat also spends time with midlevel celebrity Terry Funk, who's wrestling with the idea of his own retirement. But the film really takes off when it focuses on fading star Jake "the Snake" Roberts. Not that long ago, Roberts was one of the wilder, less consumer-friendly stars of wrestling--a lean (relatively), muscular villain with a decidedly nasty edge. These days, a dissipated, flabby Roberts plays for small-town wrestling fans in high school gyms. With a whiskey voice, Roberts confesses to sexual promiscuity, smoking crack and failed relationships with his own distant father and with his alienated children. Tragic isn't exactly the word for Roberts, but he lays bare his tortured soul with distressing and riveting intimacy. The scenes in which Roberts attempts a reconciliation of sorts with one of his children is almost too painful to bear--both father and daughter seem utterly oblivious to the presence of the camera, and yet, somehow, they are actors in roles they can't escape. (Michael S. Gant)

Plays Feb. 26 at 4pm at Camera 3. Also plays Feb. 28 at 7:15pm and March 2 at 7pm at the AMC Saratoga.

The Poet and the Con
(U.S.; 78 min.)

Eric Trules, an L.A. poet and former professional clown, directs this documentary about the black sheep of his family. The director's uncle, Harvey Rosenberg, was a career criminal who was featured on America's Most Wanted and eventually was tried for the contract murder of Frank Christi, a TV actor. (We see Rosenberg's lawyers applying for one of his continuations in the chambers of that pillar of jurisprudence, Lance A. Ito.) The documentary footage of Rosenberg shows the man's charisma and intelligence and the tragedy of his life. However, director Trules, who idolizes his uncle-despite a warning from the elder man that "you're romanticizing my life"--considers himself to be his spiritual heir as an outlaw poet. When Trules is arrested for a petty crime--clandestine Xeroxing--he notes that the charge is "commercial burglary--it's the same charge Harry's been convicted of." In one of the highlights, Trules formally announces his arrest at a family gathering, on the grounds that he may have some sort of hereditary taint that's leading him into a life of crime. Only in L.A. (RvB)

Feb. 25 at 3pm and Feb. 27 at 4:15pm--both at the Towne 3. Also plays March 1 at 3pm and March 2 at 7:15pm--both at Camera 3.

Six Days in Roswell
(U.S.; 82 min.)

The only scene worth remembering in the teen-alien series Roswell took place at a UFO re-enactment festival--a kind of county fair for conspiracy theorists. The reality of how the New Mexico town is capitalizing on its eerie reputation is wonderfully explored in Timothy B. Johnson's documentary (produced by Roger Nygard, who made Trekkies). The film crew follows one Richard Kronfeld (either the world's most perfect deadpan nerd or an inspired fictional foil for the foibles of the real world) from his mother's basement in Minnesota to Roswell for the 50th anniversary of the famed UFO crash. Ensconced in a $200-a-night RV (all the hotel rooms are booked), Kronfeld interviews hucksters ("They'll buy anything with an alien on it," says one T-shirt vendor), true believers ("It's amazing to realize that what might have happened might have happened") and New Agers (including a woman who paints her visions of flying saucers on hubcaps). When he's not chatting up abduction author Whitley Streiber, Kronfeld visits Roswell's other attractions, including the world's largest mozzarella factory. The film reaches the heights of Mount Ineffable with a performance of a musical about the UFO landing performed with amateur relish at the Roswell Community Little Theater--Waiting for Guffman pales by comparison. (MSG)

Plays Feb. 29 at 7:30pm at Camera 3 and March 4 at 7:45pm at the Towne 3.

(U.S.; 52 min.)

The show's stars obviously didn't want to be interviewed for this documentary about the phenomenon that is The X-Files, and the show's creator, Chris Carter, looks uncomfortable during one brief drive-by Q&A. Instead, director Chris Clements and Maria Bowen concentrate on the show's many fans. At a convention for X-philes, various besotted cultists discuss their devotion to the program and to the many friends they've made in cyber chat rooms debating the characters' sex lives and writing alternative-universe scripts for Fox and Dana. Most charming of all are two dotty English girls who traipse across the snow at a Canadian resort looking for an X-Files location shoot. The filmmakers try hard not to patronize their subjects, but it is hard to avoid the thought that some of these people would be well be advised to get a life, because they are not going to be able to cope when Fox (the network, not Mulder) pulls the plug on the show. It shows, appropriately enough, on a double-bill with Six Days in Roswell. (MSG)

Plays Feb. 29 at 7:30pm at Camera 3 and March 4 at 7:45pm at the Towne 3.


Fishes in August
(Japan; subtitled; 90 min.)

The film takes place at a small working-class town on the polluted mud flats of Tokyo Bay during the sweltering summer right before Kenji's last year at school. Kenji (Kenji Mizuhashi) is the son of a junkyard manager. He seems likely to follow his father into this line of work, as he has no goals or ambitions. Kenji and Arai, a Korean (and, therefore, by Japanese lights, second-class) boy, are rivals on the swim team and also rivals for a local girl. A morose but bittersweet story of a summer of loneliness, Fishes in August sums up episodes of life for those at that age where their bicycle is their best friend. (RvB)

Feb. 25 at 5:30pm and Feb. 27 at 11:45am--both at the AMC Saratoga. Also plays Feb. 28 at 2:45pm and March 2 at 3pm--both at Camera 3.

Night Time
(Germany; subtitled; 96 min.)

Wolf meets The X-Files. Thomas Kroner (Jan Josef Liefers), a wannabe novelist, is busy dubbing Finnish werewolf movies when he gets a nip on the neck from a furry creature in the night. Meanwhile, a string of grisly murders occupies the attentions of two cops, one of whom is a believer in supernatural phenomena, not unlike Fox Mulder. Increasingly convinced that he is the killer, Kroner starts investigating the 10 warning signs of lycanthropy. The characters finally converge on grandma's house in the woods, where all is revealed. The film provides a satisfactory if not especially innovative take on a familiar genre story. (MSG)

Plays March 4 at midnight at Camera 3.

Norma Jean, Jack, and Me
(U.S.; 95 min.)

Director Cyrus Nowrasteh's intriguing conceit--that Jack Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe never really died but were spirited away to a remote Caribbean island by a vast conspiracy--can't sustain this exercise in historical whimsy. The aging legends wile away their days in well-stocked isolation until a young man washes up on their private shore and threatens their secret life. Michael Murphy's Jack is a reasonable facsimile, and Sally Kirkland expertly captures Marilyn's breathy sex-pot side. Kai Lennox as the shipwrecked intruder, however, is even shallower than his part calls for--he's supposed to represent a country in desperate need of a shot of Camelot. As Jack and Marilyn start to bicker about the past, the film turns into Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?--The Sequel. The ending offers a tender moment we might wish for all our icons, but the final credits bring only relief, not redemption. (MSG)

Plays March 1 at 5pm; March 2 at 5pm; March 3 at 9:45pm; and March 4 at 5pm--all the AMC Saratoga.

Paths in the Night
(Germany; subtitled; 98 min.)

Middle-aged Walter, fired or made to retire in the relatively recent past, isn't dealing well with having time on his hands. Daily, he pays longing visits to his former workplace, a crumbling decommissioned nuclear power plant, and roams the subway every night with two youths, who, at his direction, give some comeuppance to deserving bullies. Though he's doing his little part to make the world--or at least the subway--a safer place, nothing can bring Walter out of his joylessness. In every scene, this German import seethes with quiet rage--so quiet that director Andreas Kleinert won't even let the audience in on it sometimes. Kleinert's exploration of male angst turns out to be too much like its bloodless hero--a Fight Club without any fight left. (Heather Zimmerman)

Plays March 5 at 7:30pm at Towne 3.

The Pornographer
(U.S.; 90 min.)

Pornography, as novelist Angela Carter said, is art with a job to do. The Pornographer is workmanlike art with an addled sermon to preach. L.A. paralegal Paul Ryan (Michael De Good) is young and pleasant, but he only relates to women in strip bars or on porno tapes. And he's not even Internet-ready yet. He resolves to direct his own kinder, gentler porno tapes--with preposterously tragic results. Moving his locus of control from channel serf to money-shot caller isn't an effective great leap forward, but Paul's travails are artificially inflated from everyday sexual alienation into epic drama. Compared to the earnestness of The Pornographer, Boogie Nights is as worldly and sophisticated as a Max Ophuls film. (Don Hines)

Plays March 2 at 9:45pm, March 3 at 5:15pm and March 4 at 2pm--all at the AMC Saratoga.

(U.S.; 87 min.)

Liberal guilt takes a beating when apprentice yuppie Jonathan (Kevin Corrigan of Walking and Talking) decides to reform the prostitute title character (Daisy Rojas) by teaching her to type. Pygmalion he ain't, nor has he seen Taxi Driver; he is unaware of the perils of helping fallen women. Writer/director Eric Mendelbaum maintains a cold-eyed distance between his protagonists and the rest of the world. So viewers don't know--or don't care--what prompts Jonathan's obsessive crusade, whom he's saving or why his schoolteacher girlfriend (Amy Ryan) would help him. "New York's a Lonely Town," the Tradewinds once sang, and Roberta's final coda does little to rewrite that lament. (DH)

Plays Feb. 25 at 5:30pm and Feb. 26 at 9am at Camera 3.

Rum and Coke
(U.S.; 97 min.)

Rum and Coke is a refreshing diversion, despite a talky script and predictable plot. Linda (Diana Marquis) is a New York City CAP (Cuban-American television producer) who shares her workaholism with her WASPy photographer boyfriend. Linda's family wants her to marry a nice Cuban boy, like the charming fireman (Juan Carlos Hernandez) at the station next to the television studio. The film resembles Broadcast News, with ethnic flavoring and awkward line readings. The film's techniques barely exceed those of a protracted situation comedy, yet Rum and Coke affectionately portrays the awkward dilemma of a single woman putting career and assimilation ahead of tradition. (DH)

Plays Feb. 25 at 7:15pm and Feb. 29 at 5pm--both at the AMC Saratoga. Also plays March 3 at 1pm at Camera 3.

The Three Men of Melita Zganjer
(Croatia; subtitled; 97 min.)

Forget the latest Dianne Keaton movie, the rough-hewn Three Men of Melita Zganjer offers romantic comedy from three women straight out of Croatia. Pleasantly garbled subtitles --"Another girl? The women are not pencils"--and crudely animated pastries add surreal distortion to Melita's (Mirjana Rogina) search for love. The film is as insubstantial a trifle as the eclairs Melita sells in her bakery. Overlook the crude staging and enjoy this featherweight look at two of women's intertwined passions: sex and dessert. (DH)

Plays Feb. 25 at 5:30pm; Feb. 27 at 11:30am; March 1 at 9:30pm; and March 2 at 5:15pm--all at the AMC Saratoga.

(U.S.; 63 min.)

The second half of this documentary on dominance and submission is better than the first. In later scenes, we see the straining of the love lives of professional doms. We hear the questions that need to be asked about exploitation and the use of pain as therapy. We see the sad tale of one Slave of Manhattan, a submissive man whose needs ruined his marriage. (The man in question is a 9-to-5 social worker--not enough punishment at the job?) But Whipped has its comic side: in a scene of a Learning Annex class on becoming a dominatrix; and in a funny moment as a shy toothy woman gets to give a spanking that she's obviously been waiting to deliver all her life. The latter scene epitomizes the absolute niceness and ordinariness of these people when they're not masked and clad in leather. One scene of a convention at a Newark airport Marriott or Radisson or Doubletree or something has 1,000 attendees; at the crafts booths, a woman who could be your hippie aunt is demonstrating different whips ("We call this the St. Christopher--three strokes of this and you get religion!"). Scenes within a professionals dungeon and highlights of the Black and Blue Ball are a little rougher for the sensitive. When they broke out the nipple clamps, I was bleating like Joe "The Worst Stooge" Besser: "Owwww! Easy on the mateeerial!" (RvB)

Plays Feb. 26 at midnight and Feb. 28 at 9:45pm--both at the Towne 3.

Cinequest runs Feb. 24-March 5 at the Camera Cinemas, Second and San Carlos streets, San Jose; the Towne Theater, 1433 The Alameda, San Jose; and the AMC Saratoga, Saratoga Avenue and Prospect Road. Full festival passes are $195. The opening-night gala is $35; the closing-night screening is $30. Tributes are $10-$25. Individual screens are $7 students/$8 general. Call 408.295.FEST for ticket information. (Full Disclosure: Metro is one of the executive sponsors of the festival.)

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From the February 24-March 1, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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