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Cinequest is back! Rolling out another bold program--crammed with 70 narrative features, 14 documentary features, 8 programs of shorts, 17 special events, 41 Maverick Spirit Tributes, and, of course, a few parties--Cinequest offers the biggest little city of San Jose the film festival it deserves. The tributes feature clip reels and Q&As with Michael Keaton (Beetlejuice, Batman, The Company) on Mar. 1, Danny Glover (To Sleep with Anger, The Color Purple, Lethal Weapon) on Mar. 8, Michael Arndt (writer of Little Miss Sunshine) on Mar. 7 and producer-writer Bobby Moresco (Crash) on Mar. 8. David Packard brings classic cinema back to the California Theatre, with two silent film programs: Yasujiro Ozu's I Was Born, But... (Feb. 29) and Sergei Eisenstein's October (Mar. 7).
And, of course, it's all about the latest in independent cinema, including numerous premieres and foreign-film selection. This year's Opening Night selection is Eden Court (Feb. 27 at the California), a warm, world-premiere comedy starring Thomas Lennon (Reno 911!) and Kimberly Williams-Paisley (Father of the Bride), and the festival will sign off March 9 at the California with Take, a gritty drama starring Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting, The Riches) and Jeremy Renner (North Country, S.W.A.T.).
Some of the other actors featured in festival films include Tom Wilkinson & Nick Stahl (The Night of the White Pants, 3/6 and 3/8); Bob Hoskins (Ruby Blue, 3/3, 3/6, 3/7); Olivia Hussey (Three Priests, 3/1, 3/2, 3/4); Ulrich Thomsen (The Substitute, 2/29, 3/3, 3/4); James LeGros and Enrico Colantoni (Sherman's Way, 2/29, 3/2, 3/5); Daniel Stern, Kevin Pollack, and Illeana Douglas (Otis, 3/1, 3/2); Brittany Snow, Theresa Russell, and James Russo (On the Doll, 3/7, 3/9); Dan Butler and Alec Baldwin (Karl Rove, I Love You, 3/8, 3/9), Peter Stormare (Gone With the Woman, 3/1, 3/2, 3/4); and Alan Ruck, Kevin Corrigan, and Jerry Adler (Goodbye Baby, 3/6, 3/7, 3/9), among many others.
But you needn't depend on stars: half the fun is rolling the dice on a movie that sounds interesting. Maybe that'll be Around the Bay, a narrative feature by promising local filmmaker Alejandro Adams (3/1, 3/4, 3/8). Or maybe one of the docs: about pop culture alone, there's Becoming John Ford (3/1), D-Tour: A Tenacious Documentary (3/1, 3/2), and Les Paul--Chasing Sound (2/28, 3/3, 3/4). And with a satellite set to go kablooey any moment, it's time again to catch Sputnik Mania (3/3, 3/4).
Amal (screens 3/6, 3/8, and 3/9 at the California) Richie Mehta's film, which also screens in the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, is a modern parable about the nature and role of wealth in our lives (it's based on a short story by Shaun Mehta, who co-wrote the script with the director). Cranky old billionaire G.K. Jayaram (Naseeruddin Shah) is slouching towards death when he meets Amal Kumar (Rupinder Nagra), an autorickshaw wallah with a strong moral sense. When Jarayam passes on and leaves a new will naming Amal, the billionaire's son launches a conspiracy to entrust himself the money he needs to pay off his debt to a gangster. Mehta tries a little of everything (romance, murder) when less probably would have been more, but cleverly intersecting plot threads demonstrate that we're all closer than we may think. In the end, the point is well taken: "the poorest of men can be the richest." Recommended.
Around the Bay (screens 3/1 and 3/8 at San Jose Rep and 3/4 at the Camera 12) Alejandro Adams' film is the sort that's admirable in its integrity, but not necessarily worth watching. Writer-director Adams (who, like his film, is locally based) introduces us to Wyatt (Steve Voldseth), a businessman who reunites with his long-estranged daughter Daisy (Katherine Celio) when he's in need of a live-in babysitter for his five-year-old son Noah (Connor Maselli). The integrity lies in Adams' insistence on telling the story not in narrative conventions but in patient observation, and at times--especially those scenes built around the guileless Maselli (just try to catch him acting)--the film achieves a fly-on-the-wall intimacy. Celio embodies Daisy's credible frustration at her inability to get a break, but Wyatt's requisite ice-cold selfishness makes his character difficult if not impossible to redeem (in the film's early-going, Wyatt blithely leaves Noah alone to fend for himself and swim in the pool, a sin few audiences are likely to forgive), and Voldseth is no help. Worse, the rare and crucial moments when Adams chooses to tell instead of show are inconsistent at best. A toss-up.
Beaufort (screens 2/28 at San Jose Rep) One of this year's five Oscar-nominated foreign films, the Israeli entry Beaufort essays the last days of the 12th Century Beaufort Castle, a mountain stronghold in Southern Lebanon. Once held by the PLO, the base was held by the Israeli army from 1982 to 2000, when the film is set. With a strategic pullout imminent, the troops begin to see the light creeping into their labyrinthine bunker, just enough for existential despair over the pointlessness of their continued presence. As adapted from Ron Leshem's novel by director Joseph Cedar and Leshem himself, Beaufort is a serious-minded examination of the soldier's mindset and the pull of territory in the Israeli collective consciousness. Cedar manages a convincing verisimilitude while dramatically summarizing the history, legacy, and significance of Beaufort and war's ever-present threat to sanity and survival. Highly recommended.
Sherman's Way (screens 2/29, 3/2 and 3/5 at San Jose Rep) This enjoyable outing from director Craig Saavedra and and writer Tom Nance is a quintessential indie comedy with all the familiar beats. It's about an uptight young man named Sherman (Michael Shulman of Party of Five) who gets lessons in spontaneity from a down-and-out former Olympian played by king of the indies James Le Gros. With elements of the road trip movie, the free-spirited romance, and the hijink-style comedy, Sherman's Way could stand to be a little bit more spontaneous itself. But Le Gros is terrific, the story is sweet, and the filmmakers don't botch the dramatic climax, built around the idea of absent fathers, damaged sons, and the pain of attempted reconciliation. Plus you get Donna Murphy as Sherman's smothering mother and Enrico Colantoni (Veronica Mars) as a gun-toting former gourmet chef. What more could you want? Recommended.
Young People Fucking (screens 2/29 at the Camera 12 and 3/1 at San Jose Rep) Martin Gero's film peppily exploits its Shortbus-lite concept of revealing character through sex. Five separate stories ("The Friends," "The Couple," "The Exes," "The First Date," and "The Roommates") takes turns at playing out their stories, from foreplay to afterglow. Gero focuses on sexual dysfunction: too much dirty talk, too much romantic talk, the danger of boring routine. It all plays a bit like a dirty sitcom, with the laughs coming before honesty and therefore unintentionally undermining the humor. Still, there are advantages to keeping it light. Novel situations involving "watching" and gender-role reversal (one involving a strap-on) and considerations of issues such as the right choice of music and "faking it" help to, well, arouse interest. Though the film is Canadian, some may recognize a couple of familiar faces from television: Callum Blue (Dead Like Me) as the first-date lothario and Abrams (Slings and Arrows), who stars as the male friend and co-wrote the script with Gero. Recommended.