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Cinequest 2005
Cinequest's 15th anniversary
Capsule reviews (part 1)
Capsule reviews (part 2)
Capsule reviews (part 3)
Ben Kingsley
Harold Lloyd
Suzanne Lloyd Q&A
'Charlie the Ox'
'Missionary Positions'
Festival schedule
Preview (from February 2)


Cinequest in Brief

A critical guide to the documentaries and features at this year's Cinequest

Our reviewers are Metro staffers Richard von Busack, Michael S. Gant and Claire Taylor, plus independent San Francisco film critic Jeffrey M. Anderson. Screenings take place at Camera 12 Cinemas (C12), San Jose Repertory Theatre (REP), the California Theatre (CAL) and San Jose State University Theater (SJSU-UT), all in downtown San Jose. Stay tuned next week for more coverage of the screenings and special events at Cinequest.

* = Recommended

Accordion Tribe
* Accordion Tribe
(87 min.; Austria, Switzerland) Many civilians like to denounce critics as failed moviemakers. I'm a failed accordionist, so naturally I was disposed to Stefan Schwietert's documentary about five prodigies of "the appliance that thinks it's a musical instrument" known collectively as the Accordion Tribe. The Slovenian-American Guy Klucevsek, a refugee from Pennsylvania's Polka Belt, was the force behind this jazz/new-music quintet, observed on its travels through Europe. And the lucky stiffs actually get to visit fabled Castelfidardo, the Italian center of accordion manufacturing. (At the Museo Internazionale della Fisarmonica, they enjoy horsing around with the 8-foot-high World's Largest Accordion; an instrument sized for San Jose landmark Mike the Muffler Man.) What Accordion Tribe calls to mind is an X-Men movie, with each member of the team having his or her own particular strengths. The blind Otto Lechner, a Wachovian German, is the vinegary wit of the gang and the one you'd most like to quaff a few rounds with. By contrast, Sweden's Lars Hollmer is a self-declared "romantic bøstard" who has no irony in his personality or his music. Slovenia's Bratko Bibic comes from a punk-rock trad, hardened by the recent Balkan wars; and Maria Kalaniemi is a quiet, watchful Finn who plays Bach-like liturgical riffs. Together the music is sometimes dramatic, often comical and sometimes vernacular (as when Hollmer and Klucevsek jam together on the C&W ballad "He'll Have to Go.") (RvB) (Mar 5, 12:15pm; Mar 11, 1pm; Mar 12, 1pm, all at C12)

(124 min.; Hong Kong) Flavia (Josie Ho) is married with a young child and teaching at an all girl's school. But after meeting Yip (Tian Yuan) at a grocery store, she begins having recurring flashbacks to a long-term lesbian relationship from her past, and soon she and Yip have a lesbian affair, complicating Flavia's normal, upper-middle-class Chinese life. Butterfly, directed by Yan Yan Mak, is overflowing with sex scenes, both lesbian and heterosexual, and is interrupted far too often with flashbacks and fuzzed-out camera tricks. It becomes hard to focus on Yip and Flavia's relationship when we are constantly being taken back to Flavia's past, and onscreen, the passion shown in her current relationship cannot compare with that of her youth. (CT) (Mar 7, 7:30pm, C12; Mar 8, 2:30pm, C12; Mar 9, 9:30pm, CAL)

Chlorox, Ammonia and Coffee
(105 min.; Norway) In this spinoff from Robert Altman's Short Cuts with shades of Requiem for a Dream, the lives of several Norwegians intertwine in unique ways, connected by drugs, pregnancy, sex, money and a book about understanding women. The first third consists of almost constant expository chatter, as characters confront one another, explain their feelings and desires and give each other advice. Yet writer/director Mona J. Hoel also has a striking visual sense. In the movie's quiet moments, she conjures up amazing little tidbits, from wide-angle tracking shots of the town's nooks and crannies to stunning sequences of movement (dancing, driving, trampoline bouncing, etc.). Fortunately, the characters eventually begin to drop the chatter, yawning and stretching into life and unifying the picture. (JMA) (Mar 7, 7pm, CAL; Mar 9, 9pm, C12; Mar 11, 4:45pm, C12)

* The Civilization of Maxwell Bright
(113 min.; U.S.) Angry, vulgar salesman Max Bright (Patrick Warburton, a.k.a. Puddy from Seinfeld) believes that all women are out to get him. He drunkenly decides to pick out a subservient Chinese mail-order bride, and Mai Ling (Marie Matiko), a former Buddhist nun, arrives. Despite various bumps in the road, she slowly and patiently teaches him love, respect and, when his life takes a sudden and horrible turn, enlightenment. Writer/director David Beaird conjures the first half of a movie that's funnier than a dozen romantic comedies, and a second half that's more poignant than a hundred disease-of-the-week flicks. Warburton's distinctive line delivery is the basis for an outstanding, awardworthy performance, and only a badly placed pop song near the end breaks the film's delicate spell. (JMA) (Mar 10, 9pm, CAL; Mar 12, 4:30pm, C12; Mar 13, 4:30pm, C12)

The Cleaning Lady
The Cleaning Lady
Curtis Lim's self-made romantic comedy about a wistful and slightly cracked San Francisco cleaning lady (Debra Niestat, somewhere between Lili Taylor and Kristin Scott Thomas). Madeline has dreams of becoming a student at Guangzhou's traditional medical school, but she's held back by her oafish husband. After Madeline catches him in bed with another woman, she kicks the two-timer out. Later, when she's driving back from work, she accidentally clobbers the son of a client, Stanford (Michael Cheng). The young man wakes up with amnesia. Madeline—who's had a crush on this young pre-med—convinces Stanford that he is actually her husband and moves him into her apartment. Abject is the word for the plotting, but Niestat's acting is good, making the character of Madeline believably tentative and unforced. (RvB) (Mar 3, 9pm, SJSU-UT; Mar 5, 12:15pm, SJSU-UT)

(98 min.; U.S.) Why a duck? In 2009, Arthur, an elderly widower (Philip Baker Hall, Magnolia) comes to the end of the line when his wife dies. Broke and lonely, he is about to commit suicide when he encounters a precious baby duck, which becomes his constant companion. After Arthur becomes the latest victim of the bankrupt and privatized near-future, he and his companion animal face homelessness. Director/writer Nic Bettauer demonstrates his background as a volunteer crisis counselor in a scene where Arthur talks a young man (French Stewart of Third Rock From the Sun) out of ending it all. This indie film (shot in 18 days) is suffused with sentiment. Despite its adorable star (or stars, since Joe the Duck is played by a flock of trained canards), those resistant to overly warmhearted cinema will think this Duck is a yuck. Music by David Byrne, Leonard Cohen, Eels. (RvB) (Mar 11, 7:15pm, C12; Mar 12, 5pm, CAL; Mar 13, 2:30pm, C12)

Guarded Secrets
(89 min.; Hungary) Pregnant 18-year-old Irma Varró (Anna Györgyi) leaves the state orphanage and arranges to sell her baby. While she waits for her delivery, she meets a nice boy and very possibly discovers the identity of her birth parents. At first, the film comes across as a gutsy, unflinching look at world events; it boasts a startling opening sequence depicting the violent, unpredictable underground baby market. But Guarded Secrets also wants to be a heartwarming coming-of-age story and a sweet romance. Even Györgyi's performance softens; she first enters spitting and fighting and slowly turns dewy-eyed and introspective. Despite an excellent sense of location and atmosphere, director and co-writer Zsuzsa Böszörményi only manages a so-so balance between the two urges. (JMA) (Mar 3, 3:15pm, C12; Mar 11, 9:30pm, C12; Mar 12, 9:30pm, CAL)

* 19 Revolutions
(92 min.; India, U.S.) A neon sign announces Y2K Restaurant's delicious email address [email protected] in the dazzling opening sequence of Sridhar Reddy's 19 Revolutions, a long night's journey into day for a trio of idealistic Indian youths in Hyderabad. Nezar (Vishwaa), a student, works at a coffee shop. An accidental encounter with Guru (Tarun Arora), a son of privilege, and a gorgeous rich girl named Shireen (Sriya Reddy) results in a cockeyed scheme to liberate the ill-gotten gains of Shireen's father and spread them around to the unsuspecting poor. The film is drenched in the talk-heavy idealism of youth, but the actors are appealingly earnest, and director Reddy has a keen eye for the contradictions of globalized consumerism as it seeps into traditional cultures. A long eccentric dance sequence during which the leads bunny-hop to disco music serves as both a Bollywood satire and an homage to the nightclub dance scene in La Dolce Vita. (MSG) (Mar 3, 5pm, C12; Mar 5, 3pm, CAL; Mar 7, 9pm, C12)

Shorts Program 1
This collection of comedy briefs goes down easily. David Harb's Cut & Run is an extremely broad but still amusing tale of a bounty hunter (Kevin Kilner, fondly remembered by sci-fi fans as William Boone in Earth: Final Conflict) who turns to hairdressing, eventually capturing a mullet-headed suspect and giving him a pink beehive do. Spam-ku, by Steven K. Tsuchida, manages to wring yet a few more laughs out of the foodstuff you love to hate (not the junk email). The real find is Fluent Dysphasia, directed by Daniel O'Hara. In this Tower of Babel fable, an ordinary Irish guy (Stephen Rea, The Crying Game) gets koshed on the head and wakes up speaking in a variety of tongues, including Gaelic and French. His best friend, frightened by theflood of incomprehensible gibberish, delivers an exquisite line: "You need professional help. I'd like to help you, but I'm not a professional." (MSG) (Mar 5, 3pm, C12; Mar 6, 11am, C12)

Shorts Program 5
This selection, titled for no compelling reason "Show and Tell," includes Diez, Immanuel Martin's clever short about the strange journey of an Eames chair. The piece of furniture is accidentally whisked away from its upscale store and turned into sidewalk-sale fodder. Eventually, a courtly Mexican-American artisan in San Francisco's Mission District saws the artifact into pieces that he uses to make folk art—thus enforcing and denying the laws of aesthetic entropy at the same time. Susan Kraker and Pi Ware's The Act pulls off a surprise ending in a poignant tale about a standup comedian. Iris, Adrien S. Muys' black-and-white tone poem about hard times on the Maryland coast features some extraordinary scenes of an elderly crab cracker receiving a 40-years-of-service plaque that hardly seems adequate to the tedious work she must perform. (MSG) (Mar 3, 5:30pm, C12; Mar 6, 7:15pm, C12)

Shorts Program 7
Two shorts from De Anza College's award-winning film/TV department enliven this compilation of student short films. Under the guidance of De Anza's Zaki Lisha and Susan Tavernetti, the school has produced an impressive number of student filmmakers who were able to transfer into big-name four-year film schools. (Among the De Anza alums at Cinequest 2005 are Scott Smith, director of Charlie the Ox; Ross Guidici, who has a short, Days Like These, playing with The Dry Spell; and Steve Sprinkle, whose Chick Magnet plays with The Search for the Captain.) Trans by Adriel Almirol and Paul Kresge is a slaved-over visual poem about Bay Area alienation. It relates the adventures of a bleached-out silhouette running for its life against the canyons, tunnels and wastelands of the San Francisco/San Jose sprawl. The music is by Hypoetical, and the narration is by Will Springhorn (who chants such verse as "There is no 'I' in "individual"). Ramen, by contrast, is much lighter fare. It's about an enigma that puzzles the Caucasian: How can Asians eat hot noodle soup with such efficiency, using only chopsticks as their mode of attack? Hayato Ando's short provides some tips for the curious, except for the question of how to get chicken-broth stains out of a shirt. Filmed on location at Ramen Halu in San Jose. (RvB) (Mar 3, 8pm, C12; Mar 5, 9am, C12)

* 60 Spins Around the Sun
(60 min.; U.S.) Director Laura Kightlinger's slightly hurried account of the life and times of comedian Randy Credico, who has turned his talents against the government's war on drugs. Credico always loitered in the antechamber of fame—he got this close to the chair next to Johnny Carson, until he broke the unwritten rule and did an impersonation of "The King." Credico also flunked out of Vegas for doing political satire and—at a low—had to wear the costume of Krofft Brothers-cauchemar H.R. Pufnstuf. As a volunteer harasser of the New York State Justice Department, Credico is more successful. He has organized a long-running demonstration against the drug laws based on the mothers' protest in the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina. He has a right to his outrage—one co-star here is a completely disabled muscular dystrophy sufferer named Terence Stevens who received a 10-year mandatory sentence for possession. Maybe Credico's greatest accomplishment was helping to expose the case of Tulia, Texas, which saw 43 black drug dealers arrested in a town of 5,000. "The bottom of the barrel of the drug war," attorney Jeff Blackburn called the incident. Despite this and other good works, the movie is open about how abrasive people find Credico as an aggravating tummler, an egomaniac and a political hectorer. (Plus Credico is a thief of expensive cigars, claims a typically unsmiling Larry David.) Interviews with Credico's bitter ex-girlfriends take the concept of a balanced documentary to a new extreme. Exec-produced by Jack Black. (RvB) (Mar 12, 7:30, C12; Mar 13, 1pm, SJSU-UT)

We Are Dad
(68 min.; U.S.) A home movie-style documentary about a homosexual couple's plight to adopt Bert, one of their five foster children. At birth, Bert was diagnosed with HIV; now at age 13, he has tested negative for the virus, making him desirable as a potential adoptee for "normal" people. Director Michel Horvat's film covers all bases in the ongoing argument about gays adopting, focusing heavily on stereotypical right-wing views, along with featured interviews from various professionals in the sociological and psychological fields. While obviously leaning toward gay adoption rights, the documentary positively portrays a unique family (made up of two male parents and five children who, aside from Bert, have HIV and other health problems) and the ordinary life they do their best to lead. (CT) (Mar 5, 5:30pm, C12; Mar 6, 3pm, C12)

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From the March 2-8, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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