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Can You Hear Me Now?: Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs calls for help in '30 Miles.'

Festival Fever

Armed with VCRs and DVD players, Metro's film critics have sampled a hefty share of this year's Cinequest films. Movies marked with a star are recommended. The screenings take place all over downtown San Jose, so keep these handy abbreviations in mind:
C1 = Camera 1
C3 = Camera 3
REP = San Jose Repertory Theater
UT-SJSU = SJSU's University Theater
MD-SJSU = SJSU's Morris Dailey Auditorium
HT = SJSU's Hal Todd Theater

Our reviewers are:
JA = Jimmy Aquino
MSG = Michael S. Gant
AG = Allie Gottlieb
DH = Don Hines
NH = Najeeb Hasan
WDH = William Dean Hinton
TI = Todd Inoue
GS = Gary Singh
TV = Traci Vogel
RvB = Richard von Busack

Tickets to individual screenings are $7 students and seniors and $9 general admission. For updated details, check the festival's website at www.cinequest.org. (Full Disclosure Department: Metro is one of the executive partners of the festival.)

* "1"
(89 min.; U.S.) The word dynasty is often overused and should be reserved for actual world-stopping events, but what De La Salle high school football team in Concord has accomplished over the past 12 years definitely qualifies. The varsity team coached by Bob Ladouceur has attracted national media attention because of its 150-game-plus winning streak. This documentary takes an inside look at the 2002 season, including high-profile games against the No. 2 team in the country, Long Beach Poly (which was broadcast on ESPN and played out at Cal Stadium), and a trip to Hawaii to play the top two teams there. Though heavy on the football vernacular, the film shows a coaching staff using both traditional and innovative methods to prepare its team for victory. More interesting is the effect the coaching has on the players, who take these lessons as a metaphor on how to win at life; success often means more than drills and running laps. This is must-see for football fans and those interested in the psychological side of sport. (TI) (Mar 5, 7:15pm, REP; Mar 6, 9:30pm; REP)

30 Miles
(80 min.; U.S.) A successful black talent agent, Anthony (Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs) makes the mistake of stopping to help a stranded motorist, Ernie (Rusty Gray), in the desert. On the long drive to a gas station and back, Ernie grows increasingly obnoxious, needling Anthony about race issues and egging him to confess his deepest secrets. Eventually, after too many tortured soliloquies, a twist ending ensues. At one point, Ernie imagines his hard-luck story cast with Samuel L. Jackson and Russell Crowe--if only. (MSG) (Mar 6, 7:15pm, REP; Mar 7, 4:45pm, REP)

* Aging Out
(84 min.; U.S.) Three young adults in foster care "age out"--that is, reach their 18th birthdays after most of a lifetime spent in the system. This officiously narrated documentary by Roger Weisberg and Vanessa Roth shows us what becomes of them. David is a troubled young man who's already been in court for burglary. Rage consumes him, as do dreams of relocating somewhere away from the world in the Canadian wilderness. Risa becomes the first member of her family to graduate from high school. She's the poster girl for the system, someone who overcame a brutal background to head to the University of California. And Daniella, 2 1/2 months pregnant, is determined to raise her own child even as she goes through the last stages of foster care. Your received ideas of the foster-care system won't be changed by seeing Aging Out; it's portrayed as a bureaucracy manned by self-sacrificing people. The usual troubles of young adult life are magnified by a foster child's circumstances--such as the furious, troubled David's inability to chart a course for himself, or Risa seeking to escape the temptation of drugs, only to end up as one among a thousand freshmen in a notorious party school. Often touching. (RvB) (Mar 6, 7pm, UT-SJSU; Mar 7, 6:45pm, UT-SJSU; Mar 12, 2:30pm, C3)

* The Agronomist
(90 min.; U.S.) Jonathan Demme's superb and extremely timely documentary about the life and times of Jean Dominique: agronomist by trade, journalist by vocation, cinéasté by hobby. Dominique's career at Radio Haiti Inter--the first free radio station in that dictator-prone country--parallels the recent sad history of the island republic. Dominique--an engaging, forceful and often funny man--survived the regime changes in Haiti, from the infamous Duvaliers to Aristide. (RvB) (Mar 9, 7pm, C1; Mar 11, 9:30pm, C1)

(85 min.; Japan) "In short, photography is about a single point, a moment," says the legendary Nobuyoshi Araki. "It's like stopping time as everything gets condensed into that forced instant. That's it. Taking photos is an act which makes you aware of this. But if you keep creating those points, they become a line which reflects your life." More often than not, in Araki's work, those "points" are exposed Japanese vaginas. Through several interviews with celebrities, models and mostly Araki himself, director Travis Klose provides an uninhibited glimpse into the infamous Tokyo photographer's obsessions. Takeshi Kitano says that Araki cares nothing about art. He just wants to take as many pictures as possible. Björk sticks up for the guy on several occasions. Whatever you think of Araki, he comes as close as anyone to blurring the line between pornography and art. (GS) (Mar 6, 9:45pm, C3; Mar 9, 7:15pm, C3)

* Awful Normal
(75 min.; U.S.) Two sisters who were molested by their father's friend in the 1970s decide to confront the man thirty-some years later, after discovering the man's son has been convicted of molestation himself. Celesta Davis, the younger sister, documents this fearsome task with video, intersplicing home movies to create a Capturing the Friedmans-like montage of emotional revelation. It helps that Celesta and her sister, Karen, are so personable; their intelligence and moral transparency disarm the discomfort of the camera's intrusion and keep the confrontation from degenerating into talk-show sensationalism. As in Capturing the Friedmans, it is difficult to know to what degree the abuser is self-aware, or even how truthful he is, in the end. A painful, beautiful documentary that stands as proof that, as the older sister says, "You stop being a victim when you act ... when you do something." (TV) (Mar 5, 7:15pm, UT-SJSU; Mar 7, noon, UT-SJSU; Mar 12, 5pm, MD-SJSU)

Bedtime Fairy Tales for Crocodiles
(100 min.; Mexico) A cursed family wanders its way through more than a century of Mexican history in Ignacio Ortiz Cruz's strangely compelling magical-realist drama. The story begins in the present, when a sleepless, estranged man returns to his family's house on a barren outcropping near Oaxaca. His ancestors carried out a disgusting but lucrative scheme right about the time of the fall of the Emperor Maxmilian. They would haul a muzzled coyote around and, in exchange for a few coins, allow local farmers to beat the animal, scapegoating the poor creature for the loss of their livestock. No one with any brains tricks the trickster, and as a result of this cruelty, the Juarez family has the curse of Cain laid on them for generations to come. No doubt, a Norte Americano misses some of the jokes, but both the anti-clerical satire and the comedy of cruelty recalls Goya as well as Buñuel. (RvB) (Mar 7, 11:45am, C1; Mar 9, 5pm, C1)

* Big Enough
(57 min.; U.S.) Longtime documentary maker Jan Krawitz's study of the lives of eight "little people"--genetic dwarves--is an interesting and probably definitive film. Using Michael Apted's technique of observing subjects at different ages, she contrasts the youths of these little people with their lives 20 years later. Her subjects have a range of attitudes from nonchalance to resentment: Karla Lizzo's comment, "If I don't like someone I try to imagine them short," contrasts with the "dwarf power" advocate. Krawitz's subjects often endure the pain of being different, but it's the physical pain of orthopedic surgery that's more considerable--19 surgeries in 30 years, in one case, to try to correct skeletal problems. An informative film and, of course, a counteractive of the kind of "symbolic" use of little people in films that Peter Dinklage ranted against in Living in Oblivion. (A recent example is Satan's hairy pet dwarf in Mel Gibson's hit cruciflick.) (RvB) (Mar 7, 7pm, REP; Mar 9, 7:15pm, MD-SJSU)

* Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan
(96 min.; U.S.) While the highly recommended Osama deserves its rep as the first movie produced in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, this documentary, too, shows the malign cruelty of the religious fanatics' government. The title refers to the Taliban's most wanton act of vandalism: the destruction of 1,300-year-old statues of the Buddha in the mountains near Bamiyan. What's left of the rubble is now a UNESCO-protected sight, but in the caves nearby, refugees endure scarcity and harsh winters of the hills. The boy Mir, an 8-year-old refugee, is the main subject in this series of interviews; his charm and optimism lighten the dark picture of cruelty and waste. And it's clear matters are improving under the coalition: "Even if I have nothing to eat, I have no worries." Anecdotes of survival under the Taliban include one character sort of reminiscing about the turbans he was once required to wear: "They kept my ears warm." (RvB) (Mar 6, 3pm, C3; Mar 8, 5:30pm, C3)

(104 min.; Norway) Billboard paster for money, video diarist by vocation, Kristoffer (Nicolai Cleve Broch) lives in Toyen Center, a Norwegian Alternatown, where he functions like any other twentysomething devotee of soccer and TV's Jackass; when some footage of his housemate's stunts gets accidentally discovered by TV, Kristoffer becomes a celeb, but this new notoriety ruins his life. He fails to impress the girlfriend he chased off, and his attempt to film the eccentric life of his pudgy agoraphobic roommate Stig (Anders Baasmo Christinsen) only make a citywide laughingstock of the sensitive fellow. Buddy is all about fake rebellion that makes MTV look like Das Kapital; the lack of originality is noteworthy even for this plot and this kind of movie. (RvB) (Mar 10, 6:45pm, C1)

* Caballé Beyond Music
(98 min.; Spain) A very straightforward, PBS-type tribute to the great Spanish opera singer. The mix of interviews and old performance footage is completely conventional, but Montserrat Caballé's life is still compelling, even for casual opera fans. One of the great divas of the last 40 years, famed for her temper tantrums, she is also a generous and funny woman with a set of pipes equaled only by Maria Callas. The best scene is a clip from the '70s of her delivering an aria from Norma in an outdoor arena with a wind storm rippling the veils on the costumes of the big cast--now, that's grand opera. (MSG) (Mar 6, 5pm, REP; Mar 7, noon, C3)

* Cala, My Dog!

(100 min.; China) In the mid-1990s, China started cracking down on dog licenses, confiscating pets for noncomplicance. This realistic drama, with comic touches, begins when the lapdog of Lao Er (the celebrated comic actor You Ge)--a night-shift worker at the locomotive factory--gets taken to the pound, and there is less than 24 hours to pay a sizable fee. Cala, My Dog looks at the plight of an uneasy man who cherishes his pet because he has an uncomplicated relationship with it--unlike the troubles he has with his son and his wife. Director Xuechang Lu uses the situation to portray Beijing today, with highrises pushing out the old neighborhoods and endless levels of police-enforced bureaucracy. On the bright side, help comes from a divorcee named Yang Li (the beguiling Qingin Li), who is a better friend to the man than his wife likes. And Lao's seemingly doomed effort to rescue his dog brings him out of his shell of exhaustion and disappointment. (RvB) (Mar 12, 12:15pm, C3)

The Curse of Bloodhead
(87 min.; U.S.) Two mismatched brothers, redneck Doug (Steve Hadden) and angry black bartender Donnie (Andre Ware) are summoned to a desolate trailer park by their mother's mysterious will. Turns out that a monster conjured up from the bowels of the earth is feasting on the locals as part of a murky immortality ritual. Plot: minimal to the vanishing point. The monster: an old-fashioned rubber way. But the acting is sprightly (look for Lynda Carter and Frank Gorshin in small roles) and the production values are a cut above your usual SciFi channel original. Director Christopher Coppola (one of Francis' nephews) cruises along at a comic clip, especially in a very funny scene at a drive-in theater. Almost, but not quite as much, fake blood as Mel's Passion. (MSG) (Mar 12, 9:30pm, MD-SJSU; Mar 13, 11:30pm, C3)

Delivery Method
(100 min.; U.S.) Gus weaves through the streets of New York as a bike messenger. His cargo is drugs. Jessie is a masseuse, recovering from a broken heart. Filmed at mostly close range with hand-held cameras, director Josh Apter's Delivery Method is a grungy tale of drug use and angst among struggling white thirtysomethings in New York City--but it's not as bad as that sounds. Strong acting, realistic dialogue and a lack of Hollywood production sheen keep the clichés mostly at bay. In the end‚ the film is a love story, perversely about love's constant inability to overcome life's difficulties. What little redemption the film offers is represented in a quote from one of Gus' friends: "Everybody has the right to enjoy a good slump, and everybody has the right to enjoy coming out of it." (TV) (Mar 11, 6:45pm, MD-SJSU; Mar 13, 2:45pm, C3)

Destination Moscow
(80 min.; Norway) A Russian road picture set in the tail end of the Soviet Union in which an avant-garde/deep-dish theatrical dance company tours an unappreciative provinces in an almost-decrepit bus, wowing the locals with stuffed seagulls and tuba solos. And they dream, like Chekov characters, of Moscow. They finance their pathway with the delivery of ³sugar² (some sort of powdered contraband, probably heroin). The police are apprised, and a pair of thuggish cops follow them on their route. We¹re meant to applaud their sincerity, if not their talent; you don¹t blame the provincials when they snore and don¹t understand them when they applaud later (after a mute Romanian crazy-dancer joins the troupe). The advantage of the film is a lot of Russian scenery: beautiful countryside and catastrophic architecture. (RvB) (Mar 6, 12:15pm, C1; Mar 7, 9pm, C1)

* Double Dare
(81 min.; U.S.) Director Amanda Micheli's kick-ass documentary is a love letter to Hollywood's stuntwomen, particularly Jeannie Epper. The sixtysomething veteran is viewed within the stunt-double community as a legend. But outside that close-knit community, Epper is--like that theme from The Fall Guy says--unknown, unless you grew up watching Wonder Woman reruns (like I did) and knew that it wasn't Lynda Carter doing all those leaps off rooftops (which I didn't, showing you how tight my grip on reality was as a kid). Double Dare follows Epper as she mentors an up-and-comer, former Xena stunt double Zoe Bell, an eager adrenaline junkie from New Zealand. Epper clearly loves the glitz and glamour of Hollywood but is also wary of the phonies who populate the town--she whispers a warning about them to Bell during one great candid moment inside an awards-show limo. Aging stuntwomen like Epper face the same issues aging female movie stars do: they worry about still getting work and staying in shape, though they have to pay more attention to their bodies than their faces, of course. Part of the suspense of Double Dare concerns whether or not Epper will undergo a liposuction. Epper's physical stunts extend beyond movie sets; we discover that she donated a kidney to actor Ken Howard of Crossing Jordan fame. To hell with Donna Reed, Epper is the mother you'll wish you had. (JA) (Mar 5, 7pm, C3; Mar 6, 5:30pm, C3)

(94 min.; Finland) Elia, said to be based on true events, chronicles the story of a Finnish woman who is laid off from a custodial job and finds herself fighting for workers rights, while attempting to balance her crusade for justice with raising a troublesome son. Recent Finnish cinema, observers say, has focused on social justice, and Elia fits in nicely with this trend. However, what makes Elia more than just another social-justice film is the character's parallel struggle with raising her son, a job that rivals dealing with even the most formidable of uncaring employers. The film received eight nominations for the Jussi awards, known across the ocean as the Finnish Oscars. (NH) (Mar 4, 5pm, C1; Mar 8, 9pm, C1)

Fado Blues
(111 min.; Portugal) Portuguese expatriate schemers Amadeu and Leonardo hustle their way out of Brazil, where they're both in a rut at work--Amadeu bilking the tourists, Leonardo working a clerk's job. In picturesque Lisbon, the two try to hook up with a famous crime-novel writer, notorious for actually committing the crimes he writes about. Fluffy caper comedy that ends with a robbery on the modern-art museum; the antics are grounded, slightly, with the local color and a few pungent observations here and there: "That's Portugal for you--you have to leave to become famous." (RvB) (Mar 13, 6:30pm, C1; Mar 14, noon, C1)

Graveyard Alive--A Zombie Nurse in Love
(81 min.; Canada) This horror-movie spoof doesn't live up to its cool title, even though director Elza Kephart went for a classy old-fashioned black-and-white look. A mousy nurse gets infected with zombie virus, throws off her glasses, lets down her hair and starts gnawing on limbs in the operating room. Unfortunately, the pacing is slower than the typical zombie shuffle, and the acting isn't bad enough to be funny in an old-movie parody way. (MSG) (Mar 8, 9:45pm, MD-SJSU; Mar 12, 11:30pm, C3)

Ham & Cheese
(88 min.; Canada) A mockumentary about two lovable losers, fish-house employee Richard (Mike Beaver) and ticket salesman Barry (Jason Jones), who dream of becoming famous actors. Richard graduates from theme-park mascot to member of an experimental theater troupe; Barry becomes an arrogant prick after he somehow lands a bit part in a commercial. The film is Canadian, which means oddball, hit-and-miss humor. Sample line: "That's why they call it show business, not show pleasure." Some situations are too cruel to laugh along with. And even when played for laughs, bad acting is still too painful to watch. (WDH) (Mar 12, 7:15pm, UT-SJSU; Mar 13, 7pm, MD-SJSU)

(100 min.; U.S.) San Francisco has yet to find its cinematic poet for the new century--it still relies on the nigh-50-year-old Vertigo as the perfect expression of the city. When will a filmmaker come along possessed with a vision that will encompass all the mad, warring tribes that make up San Francisco? Maybe never, since the city doesn't have the strength of New York chauvinism to hold it together. This shot-on-DVD drama about the rise and fall of a Mission District start-up takes in a range of city-zens; the characters are everyone from an unbalanced homeless girl (Radha Lorca) to a ruthless exec (Kerry Gudjohnsen). All are involved in the creation of the initial public offering for Hot-Tot, a company that helps pick desirable genetic features ("We're in the peopling business"). Writer/director Daniel Gamburg director shoots on digital beta but works hard to make the compositions cinematic, even by taking the production up to Tahoe. Visually the film works, and there are more than a few affecting performances, but on the whole, a little more writing and rehearsal would have helped. (RvB) (Mar 5, 9:30pm, Rep; Mar 8, 9:30pm, UT-SJSU)

* Jonny Vang
(85 min.; Norway) Set to the mariachi/Western strains of Calexico, this story of three childhood friends careens melodically through business troubles, serene green hillsides and the mysteries of love and violence. Jonny decides to start a worm farm on the land that belongs to his mother and stepfather, but he keeps getting mysteriously sabotaged. Could it be his best friend, whose wife we see Jonny joyously fucking in the first scene? Could it be the hapless police chief, who watches over the small farming town like a lackadaisical parent? Or the bullying mechanic, to whom Jonny owes money? The small-town setting acts like a fourth main character in this charming literary tale of redemption through honesty. Add a thoroughly satisfying ending, and Jonny Vang makes for a whimsical mystery and an earthy epiphany all in one. (TV) (Mar 7, 4;45pm, C3; Mar 9, 5:15pm, C3)

* Kill Me Tender
(98 min.; Spain) A.k.a. Haz Conmigo lo que Queiras, which could be rendered as "Do With Me What You Want." The English title of Ramón de España's juicy comedy/melo is particularly inappropriate, since it's not Elvis' "Love Me Tender" but Dean Martin's "Memories Are Made of This" that turns up on the soundtrack. A bird-brained but basically good-hearted stud in Barcelona (Alberto San Juan) crosses paths with Maribel (the fierce Ingrid Rubio, showing Penelope Cruz how it's done), a hostile small-town harlot. The stud has a humiliating job--working for Debt Bunny, a collection agency that inflicts rabbit-suited stalkers on deadbeats. By contrast, Maribel's relatives want to muscle her into marriage with an ancient but lecherous patisserie owner, who has become a wolfman ever since his new satellite dish introduced him to porno. Very dry, with a slightly sweet finish; seemingly clashing hints of James M. Cain and Pedro Almodovar mingle in the palette. (RvB) (Mar 11, 5pm, C3; Mar 12, 4:45pm, C1)

* The Last Horror Movie
(80 min., U.K.): This sick film might engender some popcorn-bucket hurl thanks to many closeup acts of murder. It is also hilarious enough to evoke laughs as well--go figure. The star character, Max Parry (Kevin Howarth), is a know-it-all serial killer who forms and sustains a relationship with the audience, culminating in a direct threat. It is as if Parry is the latest subject of a reality show. The silly title implies the well-traveled teen-horror formula, and even though director Julian Richards' film doesn't fall into that dark bubble-gum category, fans of the genre will probably appreciate the dry evil humor. I recommend this film, but don't eat too much before watching it. (AG) (Mar 6, midnight, C3; Mar 10, 9:30pm, C3)

* Liberty: 3 Stories About Life & Death
(70 min.; U.S.) The most life-affirming film of the year is a documentary regarding death. Peninsula resident Pam Walton videotaped two friends preparing for the treatment and aftermath of a brain tumor and cancer, respectively. They are part of a coterie of boisterous lesbians who were friends and lovers for the last two or three decades. The women exhibit a joi de vivre, muted by the start of life's last act. They turn a haircut, preparation for chemotherapy, into a goofy theater piece. Joyce is shorn to '80s mousse head, Mohawk, suede head and finally skinhead. Her friends plant bright-red lipstick kisses on her now-shiny head. We should all live so long to have friends like these. (DH) (Mar 6, 9:15pm, UT-SJSU; Mar 7, 2:30pm, REP; Mar 8, 1pm, UT-SJSU)

Madness and Genius
(103 min.; U.S.) Madness and Genius centers on an estranged physics professor (Tom Noonan) who is possibly going mad. One of his students, Jordan, has a photographic memory but can't grasp the big picture when it comes to studying. So in order to satisfy his parents, Jordan pays another student, Nigel, to tutor him. The black-and-white movie captures the odd relationships between these three characters. Throw in a gorgeous teaching assistant named Rachel. and the relationships get even more intense. Nigel, who has Lou Gehrig's disease, wants Rachel, but she doesn't acknowledge him at all. Jordan wants access to the professor's secret ideas, and Rachel just wants success, period. Twenty-two-year-old director Ryan Eslinger weaves a spooky tale of how madness, genius, jealousy and isolation all interpenetrate one another. (GS) (Mar 7, 9:15pm, REP; Mar 8, 7:30pm, MD-SJSU)

(85 min.; Germany) Watching Madrid tends, almost, to get downright annoying. Isabel works in a grocery store and has a lousy boyfriend (who, by the way, might as well have been played by a post--that's how deeply the film explained why he's so lousy). After some clichéd soul-searching about her love life (she discovers that her listless relationship with her boyfriend had as much to do with herself as with him), Isabel becomes attracted to a businessman whose intensity starts making her think even more about love--and on, and on, and on. Perhaps most importantly, Isabel lives in a German suburb but has Spanish blood. The film's attempts to make the connection from her Spanish roots to her trials in love are awkward, at best. (NH) (Mar 8, 7pm, Cq; Mar 9; 9:30pm, C3; Mar 12, 3pm)

* The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam
In the early decades of the 20th century, Chinese magician Long Tack Sam was a worldwide phenomenon. He's slipped in showbiz limbo, but this documentary by his great-grandaughter, Ann Marie Fleming, reconstructs the entertainer's remarkable life as a vaudeville star of the top rank. The director travels to several continents in pursuit of relatives and old-time magicians who knew Long Tack Sam. At times, Fleming is an irritating presence, and she overuses her comic-book-style interludes, but the man's story is so fascinating it overwhelms these minor flaws. What's really unfortunate is that Fleming was unable to unearth any footage of Long Tack Sam's act. (MSG) (Mar 4, 7:15pm; Mar 6, 12:45pm, C3)

The Man Who Loved Haugesund
(60 min.; Denmark) His name is stamped on wooden hangers in closets throughout the Norwegian town of Haugesund, but as this documentary informs us, few remember who M. Rabinowitz was. Moritz Rabinowitz was a Polish Jew who moved to Haugesund in the early 1900s, attracted to the place by its outgoing citizens and healthy natural charm. There he built the largest clothing factory in Norway. Rabinowitz is portrayed as something of a mercantile genius, offering made-to-order suits in a day, creating novel advertising strategies, attracting business countrywide. Despite Rabinowitz's fondness for Haugesund, however, he remained an outsider because of his ethnicity and religion, and as the threat from Germany cast a shadow over Norway, he penned stern caveats to the local papers--in vain. The Nazis, alerted to Rabinowitz because of his journalism, came looking for him. The film, which intersplices archive footage and interviews with Rabinowitz's contemporaries, presents a tragic document of history's ability to forget. (TV) (Mar 4, 5:15pm, C3; Mar 5, 5pm, C3)

Miles Ahead
(85 min.; U.S.) Who wants to watch a plodding coming-of-age film about a lonesome teenager's attempts to overcome a friend's death? You'll find out if you attend this weeper, which involves an aspiring writer named Miles (Ben Allison), who receives little support from his clueless dad after the death in a bizarre auto accident of Miles' free-spirited friend Taylor. Meanwhile, Miles resists attempts from a cute girl to save him from introspection. The cinematography is above average, and Allison (of Cold Mountain fame) gives the kind of earnest, contemplative performance a film like this requires. If only someone could have goosed directors Dylan Trivette and Matt Zboyovski in their cinematic asses. The film is 85 minutes long, but it will seem like hours till you reach the exits. (WDH) (Mar 13, 9:30pm, C3; Mar 14, 4:45pm, UT-SJSU)

* The Mystery of the Trinidad
(100 min.; Mexico) It's easy to root for a film in which the two main characters (Juan and Isabel) enjoy such hot sex, especially since the two are siblings. Juan is the illegitimate son whose father bequeaths him a junky fishing boat. Isabel is the daughter who has trouble deciding whether her long-lost brother is lover or friend. The film almost loses it at the end when Juan winds up in a monsoon, another sign of director José Luis Garcia Agraz's melodramatic tendencies. But the pace is dead-on, and the acting of Eduardo Palomo as Juan and Rebecca Jones as Isabelle are as hot as their truncated sex scene. (WDH) (Mar 5, 2:45pm, C3; Mar 12, 4:45pm, C3)

* The Nightowls of Coventry
(75 min.; U.S.) American Splendor's Harvey Pekar gives the endorsement to this film about his old neighborhood in Cleveland Heights. Laura C. Paglin's well-acted, small-time comedy concerns the denizens of Marv's, a roachy all-night deli/cafe. The social fault lines of 1973 are making for some trouble, but most of the problems are due to the owner, who blows his profits on the ponies. Marv (Seymour Horowitz) and the rest of the tummlers, freeloaders and hippies are cheered up by the arrival of an innocent young waitress named Susan (Donna Casey); she helps keep the dilapidated place from falling down around Marv's ears. Casey kicks the film up to a higher level; there are also credible performances by Kevin Horne as a seductive New Age quack and Annie Kitral as a weathered waitress. (RvB) (Mar 9, 9:30pm, MD-SJSU); Mar 11, 5pm (UT-SJSU)

* One Man Show

(77 min.; U.S.) The gods have a strange sense of humor. Why else would they give a $45 million lottery prize to a struggling performance artist who thinks he's a torch singer? Ira Rosensweig's engaging documentary follows the self-aggrandizing adventures of John Falcon, who hit New York State lottery in 1999. A naturally funny performer, Falcon is refreshingly materialistic about his new-found wealth, talking openly about buying sex, fine art and a Trump Tower apartment and staging his one-man show, A Short Puerto Rican Guy Sings Songs of Angst, for an invited audien ce (because, judging from the evidence, no one would pay for a seat). Rosensweig has gotten John's eccentric friends and relatives to weigh in with comments that are a hilarious mix of jealousy, sucking up and downright bitterness. Best of all is John's flamboyant, hectoring mother, who makes George Costanza's mom look like June Cleaver. (Falcon himself will appear at Cinequest.) (MSG) (Mar 12, 7:30pm, UT-SJSU; Mar 13, 7:15pm, UT-SJSU)

(85 min.; Norway) A story about people in their early 20s, memoirist/publisher Dave Eggers says, usually only interests people in their early 20. Play is no exception. Eight students have just graduated from a Norwegian dramatic academy; they gather at a rustic island resort for one final weekend before scattering across the globe. The attractive cast indeed plays on water skis and around a campfire: the Nordic equivalent of a weekend on the delta. The characters do not show, surprisingly, the self-aggrandizement of actors offstage, until the host, Thorir Saemundsson (looking like the offspring of Nick Cave and Björk), pulls a climactic act worthy of young Werther. (DH) (Mar 5, 9:15pm; C3; Mar 6, 4:45pm, UT-SJSU; Mar 8, 3pm, UT-SJSU)

Quality of Life
(85 min.; U.S.) The cinematography's simplicity and the moments when the some young artists paint graffiti give strength to Quality of Life, an homage to the art of the tag. The story, co-written by director Benjamin Morgan and co-star Brian Burnam, follows two poor white boys who tag San Francisco's Mission District at night in an effort to express themselves publicly without paying for a billboard. The acting commands attention, but the film's unoriginal and inconclusive morality lesson--that one must grow up and stop being reckless or risk self-destruction--seems inserted as hollow filler. (AG) (Mar 12, 9:30pm, UT-SJSU; Mar 13, 2:45pm, MD-SJSU)

Rhapsody in White
(86 min.; Bulgaria) Bug-eyed Dana (Maya Novoselska, looking like the spawn of GIulietta Masina and Andrea Martin) wonders in a limbo zone between reality and fantasy while working at a bargain-basement sock-puppet theater that makes Triumph the Comic Insult Dog look like the Muppets. Director Teddy Moskov's exercise in forced whimsy includes the kind of cryptic stunts (Dana with not one, but two, paper bags on her head) that give art movies a bad name. It's hailed as "one of the most successful Bulgarian films in recent years"--which says it all. (MSG) (Mar 6, 2:15pm, C1; Mar 10, 7:30pm, C3)

(95 min.; U.S.) Brien Burroughs's slow-speed comedy concerns a pair of too-serious security guards at a chocolate factory. It's of the school of Alexandre Rockwell and Jim Jarmusch. Scenes of rejects doing very little and talking about nothing are meant to induce paroxysms of laughter. But the film doesn't cleverly mock banality, it succumbs to it. (RvB) (Mar 12, 9:15pm, C3; Mar 14, 11:30am, MD-SJSU)

(80 min.; U.S.) Like Random Families, social worker Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's much-lauded story of protean Bronx families, Shelter shows the patching together of a makeshift family in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn. Developmentally delayed Ray, his rent-boy brother, Spider, and their childhood friend (pregnant, paint-huffing) Maria form a provisional household as they wander from heater grates to abandoned buildings, finally landing in a seaside summer cottage boarded-up for winter. The naturalistic acting and unadorned photography preserve the matter-of-fact humanity in this lurid story. "Oh, well," says Maria, "life goes on." The characters are worse off but no wiser at the end of the film, as Ray holds together a simulacrum of family. (DH) (Mar 8, 7:30pm, UT-SJSU; Mar 10, 9:15pm, MD-SJSU)

* Sheriff
(57 min.; U.S.) Ronald E. Hewett, sheriff of a rural county on the North Carolina coast, is a talker. His banter might irk his colleagues, but his nonstop chatter and explication are a boon for a documentary film, since Hewett narrates his own life's work. The camera follows the indefatigable sheriff through budget meetings, the raid of a video-gambling parlor (thinly disguised as a candle shop in the mall) and an all-night search for a murder suspect. While taking his tweener daughter hunting in full camouflage, he says that hunting, like police work, involves a lot of waiting around. "That's why it's called hunting," he explains, "not killing." Sheriff offers a moving and respectful portrait of a vanishing breed in a vanishing place: sheriff in rural America. (DH) (Mar 13, 7:15pm, C3; Mar 14, 4:30pm, C3)

Slim Susie
(101 min.; Sweden) Welcome to Dullsville, Sweden. Erik (Jonas Rimeka), an escapee to Stockholm, must to return to his boring hometown of Varmland to see what became of his formerly inert little sister (Tuva Novotny). Sister Susie took to drugs like a duck to water and, before long, was involved in all of the town's lowlives--which means all of Erik's former hard-drinking, Quentin Tarantino-worshipping chums--in addition to some new suspects, a depressed cop and a bleached-blonde video store owner. At the beginning of this movie, I scrawled on my notes, "A Swedish Run Lola Run clone," and by the end, I'd had no reason to scratch that slander out. To be fair, it may be really evocative to those who languished in a one-movie theater town. (RvB)

Soldiers of the Rock
(93 min.; South Africa) South African gold miners try to escape the deadly grind of deep-earth work by pooling their resources and starting their own company. The message is a very basic "workers unite" rallying cry, but the intense camerawork stays glued to the faces of the miners as they toil in dank, confined spaces, bathed in a hellish red light, and the film builds to several shattering climaxes. (MSG) (Mar 6, 10am, REP; Mar 10, 5pm, UT-SJSU; Mar 11, 3pm, UT-SJSU)

* Solid Air
(118 min.: U.K.) A high-stakes gambler named Robert (Brian McCardie) amasses an unmanageable debt that threatens his well-being. Meanwhile, his father, Robert Sr. (Maurice Roëves), suffers from asbestosis, a fatal lung condition. Senior brings suit against his former employer and is given a pittance of a settlement. Robert Jr. re-enters his father's life, gets wind of the scam and attempts to reclaim justice. But is it for his father's sake or for Junior to play another day? Though its buildup is as thick and unwieldy as the Scottish brogue-inflected dialogue, May Miles Thomas has crafted a wise drama about guts and paternal instinct with an ending that's worth the time invested. (TI) Mar 5, 12:30pm, C1; Mar 11, 7pm, C3; Mar 12, 9pm, C1)

(95 min.; U.S.) Sixteen-year-old Kelly (Lauren Birkell) looks, sounds and behaves quite like Thora Birch's character in American Beauty: gorgeous, depressed and disenfranchised. So her mom drags her off to a summer vacation home to get away from her failed suicide attempt and her long-deceased father. There they find themselves immersed in all sorts of bizarre situations involving ghosts, a shrink, flying forks and a practicing psychic who sees all. Cupertino filmmaker Phil Leirness takes what could have been an interesting mother-daughter relationship and intertwines it with lackluster dialogue and jaded themes. But Birkell makes it watchable. Thora Birch fanatics will begin to follow her career if it takes off. (GS) (Mar 6, 7:30pm, C3; Mar 7, 4:30pm, UT-SJSU)

Sunday on the Rocks
(U.S.; 75 min.) Know as you read this that I don't like stage plays, Sunday on the Rocks is a filmed play. Theresa Rebeck's screenplay about four middle-aged women who live together, three of whom spend half the movie complaining about the fourth, contains a few funny lines but basically goes nowhere. It's a slice-of-life chick play that proves that smoking, cursing and drinking Scotch at 9:30 in the morning aren't--surprisingly--enough to make a person cool. On the bright side, Cady Huffman does a good job of acting like Susan Sarandon in her performance as the lead self-reflecting character, Elly. It's directed by veteran actor Joe Morton (Brother From Another Planet, Terminator 2). (AG) (Mar 11, 7:30pm, C1; Mar 13, 2:15pm, C1)

* Turn Right at the Yellow Dog
(100 min.; Denmark) Karl is so desperate to escape an old-folk's home that he pretends to have been friends with the estranged father of businessman Phillip. Phillip is so desperate to learn about his dead father that he brings Karl home to draw out all the stories he can. The fictional accounts endear Phillip to the point where he begins calling Karl "Dad." Eventually, the old gent's cover is blown, but not before Phillip realizes he's found a new family member. Smarmy? Not at all. Yellow Dog is a charming film about the power of people to become who we want them to be. The best part is Jesper Klein as Karl; his subtle performance allows the audience to discover what Phillip finally does: We're all putting on an act, in one way or another, for those we love. (WDH) (Mar 11, 5:15pm, C1; Mar 12, 9:15pm, C1; Mar 13, 4:15pm, C1)

Vote for Me
The pugnacious center of this brash political satire from writer/director Nelson Antonio Denis is Leo (Ricardo Barber), an elderly East Harlem tenement superintendent so fed up with neighborhood crime that he decides to run for Congress. His plain-spoken, foul-mouthed "Viva Puerto Rico!" grassroots campaign--think Chris Rock in Head of State but way more laconic and without the No Limit-style bling-bling--takes El Barrio by storm. Denis has a field day with the empty rhetoric of Leo's rivals--corny lines like "Two blacks don't make a white" are references to actual soundbites from recent New York political history, which Denis is no stranger to, because he himself once held office as a state assemblyman. I doubt Cali moviegoers will understand the insider jokes or find the fact-based high jinks to be as outrageous and absurd as Denis thinks they are (especially after we had to endure something even more absurd: the race to oust Gray Davis, or as our Maverick Spirit Award-winning governor would probably call it, The Running Man II: Hasta La Vista, Davis). But the film's proposition that more everymen like Leo should run for office would definitely earn a vote from politically aware moviegoers on either coast. (JA) (Mar 10, 7:15pm, MD-SJSU; Mar 11, 4:45pm, MD-SJSU; Mar 13, 10:30am, UT-SJSU)

Special Events

Cinequest honors three mavericks according to the arcane criteria it uses to designate filmmaking personalities as "mavericks" of one kind or another. On March 10 at 6pm at SJSU's Morris Dailey Auditorium, Arnold Schwarzenegger will be honored for his self-made career as a bodybuilder, actor, Kennedy family member and--pick one: savior of California or budget-cutter to the poor and disenfranchised. (Tickets are $35/$70--it's a fundraiser.)

Also receiving Maverick Spirit Awarda are David and Janet Peoples, the screenwriting tandem from Berkeley responsible for such films as Blade Runner, 12 Monkeys and Unforgiven. They will appear March 12 at 2pm at the Dailey Auditorium. Tickets to this event are $10. On March 11, the festival honors Kurt Miller, one of the pioneers of the extreme sports world. The presentation takes place a 9pm at Dailey; tickets are $15.

The second weekend of the festival also features a variety of workshops and forums devoted to the latest advances in digital filmmaking. These panels cover both the making and distributing of films in the digital age, with presentations by industry leaders like Panasonic, Avid, PlasterCITY and Fujifilm. See the website for details on these.

For people with "shorts attention spans," Cinequest is screening nine different programs of short films, from comedy quickies to minidocumentaries. Most of these screenings take place the first week of the festival:

Comedy Favorites--Mar 4, 7:15pm, REP; Mar 6, 2:45pm, Rep
Mindbenders--Mar 4, 9:45pm, REP; Mar 5, 11:15pm, C3
Docu-nation--Mar 6, noon, UT-SJSU; Mar 7, noon, REP
Transitions--Mar 9, 7pm, UT-SJSU; Mar 10, 5pm, C3
Extreme Shorts--Mar 8, 7:45pm, C3; Mar 11, 9:45pm, C3
Anything-But Ordinary--Mar 7, 2:15pm, C3; Mar 9, 9:30pm, UT-SJSU
Student Shorts--Program A: Mar 6, 10am, C3; Mar 8, 5pm, MD-SJSU; Program B: Mar 7, 9:15pm, C3; Mar 10, 9:30pm, UT-SJSU
Cortos de Mexico--Mar 7, 10:15am, C3; Mar 8, 5pm, C1; Mar 11, 11:30am, UT-SJSU
San Jose Shorts--Mar 14, 9:30am, MD-SJSU

The festival winds up with Terry L. Benedict's documentary The Conscientious Objector, the story of Seventh-Day Adventist Desmond T. Doss who won a Medal of Honor in World War II as a medic. The film screens March 14 at 6:30pm at Morris Dailey Auditorium, and will be followed by a party at Blake's Steakhouse and Bar.

Send a letter to the editor about this story to letters@metronews.com.

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From the March 3-10, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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

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