Cinequest picks for Tuesday, March 3

THE CENTER

THE CENTER

The final (scheduled) screenings of these gems are today:

  • THE CENTER: An absorbing and topical American indie drama about the seductiveness of a cult.
  • DIRTY BEAUTIFUL: An American indie comedy that is decidedly NOT a by-the-numbers battle of the sexes.
  • FACTORY BOSS: I haven’t yet seen this narrative about the manager of a Chinese sweatshop factory getting squeezed, but I’ve hearing good things around the fest. One of my friends, who has been to factories in Shenzen, entered a screening a little late and initially mistook it for a documentary.

Tonight is the eagerly awaited L’ATALANTE, rarely seen on the big screen. It’s the 1934 masterpiece of French writer-director Jean Vigo, who died at age 29 soon after its completion. Richard von Busack, the highly respected film critic for Metro, will receive a Media Legacy Award at the screening.

I also liked the documentary THERE WILL BE NO STAY, a powerful examination of American capital punishment from the perspective of the executioners.

See you around the fest. You can find my festival coverage, including both features and movie recommendations, on my Cinequest page. Follow me on Twitter for the very latest.

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Cinequest 2015 at mid-festival

CORN ISLAND

CORN ISLAND

We’re halfway through Cinequest 2015. What are the biggest hits and the most delightful surprises?

Cinequest’s Director of Programming/Associate Director Mike Rabehl was definitely right: he predicted BATKID BEGINS and WILD TALES to be among the biggest audience pleasers. The opening night audience reveled in BATKID BEGINS, and WILD TALES, the darkly comic Argentine collection of revenge stories, rocked the California Theatre.

And how about those surprise gems?

  • CORN ISLAND: This exquisite and lyrical Georgian drama is a Must See for Cinephiles. If it doesn’t turn out to be the best contemporary art movie at Cinequest 2015, I’ll be shocked.
  • ANTOINE ET MARIE: A brilliantly constructed French-Canadian drama with two unforgettable characters.
  • THE CENTER: An absorbing and topical American indie drama about the seductiveness of a cult.
  • IN THE COMPANY OF WOMEN: Unexpectedly sweet, this starts out with a Boys Behaving Badly set-up and then morphs into a tribute to enduring love.
  • FACTORY BOSS: I haven’t yet seen this narrative about the manager of a Chinese sweatshop factory getting squeezed, but I’ve hearing good things around the fest. One of my friends, who has been to factories in Shenzen, entered a screening a little late and initially mistook it for a documentary.

The most underrated movie at Cinequest?  Somehow, the biting darkly hilarious Mexican social satire LOS HAMSTERS is flying under the radar.  I think this tale of a dysfunctional family is both very smart and very funny.

It’s also been a notably strong year for the documentaries at Cinequest:

  • ASPIE SEEKS LOVE: A surprisingly sympathetic portrait of a guy looking for love like anyone else, but whose social skills are handicapped by Asberger’s.
  • MEET THE HITLERS: Tracking down real people burdened with the Fuhrer’s name, this successful doc weaves together both light-hearted and very dark story threads.
  • SWEDEN’S COOLEST NATIONAL TEAM: A character-driven take on the sports movie takes us into a Nerd Olympics.
  • THERE WILL BE NO STAY: a powerful examination of American capital punishment from the perspective of the executioners.

Most promising film yet to come? I’d say Tuesday night’s L’ATALANTE:, rarely seen on the big screen. It’s the 1934 masterpiece of French writer-director Jean Vigo, who died at age 29 soon after its completion. Richard von Busack, the highly respected film critic for Metro, will receive a Media Legacy Award at the screening.

See you around the fest. You can find my festival coverage, including both features and movie recommendations, on my Cinequest page. Follow me on Twitter for the very latest.

IN THE COMPANY OF WOMEN

IN THE COMPANY OF WOMEN

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Cinequest Picks for Monday, March 2

ANTOINE ET MARIE

ANTOINE ET MARIE

My Cinequest picks for Monday, March 2:

  • ANTOINE ET MARIE: A brilliantly constructed French-Canadian drama with two unforgettable characters.
  • THREE WINDOWS AND A HANGING: powerful and artfully shot drama from Kosovo about gender reactions to a wartime atrocity.
  • MEET THE HITLERS: Tracking down real people burdened with the Fuhrer’s name, this successful doc weaves together both light-hearted and very dark story threads.
  • SLOW WEST: This offbeat Western with Michael Fassbender won a prize at Sundance.
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Leonard Nimoy: more than Spock

Leonard Nimoy, with Donald Sutherland and Jeff Goldblum in INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS

Leonard Nimoy, with Donald Sutherland and Jeff Goldblum in INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS

We all know Leonard Nimoy, who died last week, for originating the unforgettable character of Mr. Spock in the first four seasons of TV’s Star Trek.  I was a teenager during the first run of Star Trek and, although I’m certainly not a Trekkie or even a huge fan of sci-fi in general, I remember that it was Must Watch TV – more of a phenomenon than a television show.

Nimoy gets much of the credit for Star Trek becoming a cultural sensation. The show’s special effects now seem remarkably lame and the other characters pretty ordinary (although the ethnic mix of the cast was novel for its time and William Shatner’s line readings were so eccentric). However, creator Gene Roddenberry’s story lines were so aspirational, exploring themes of tolerance and aggression and peace and discovery – how to Encounter the Other. And then there was Mr. Spock. Sure, the Vulcan’s pointy ears and the freedom from emotion were in the script, but it’s impossible to imagine any other actor as Spock.

Leonard Nimoy had 62 screen credits BEFORE Star Trek, mostly in television work including lots of Westerns like Bonanza, Rawhide, Wagon Train, The Virginian and Daniel Boone. And immediately after Star Trek, he went on to three seasons as part of the Mission: Impossible team in another, even more mainstream, hit TV series.

But my favorite Nimoy performance? It was the chillingly confident and authoritative Dr. David Kibner in the 1978 Philip Kaufman remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Not everybody can be menacing in a turtleneck.

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Cinequest Picks for Sunday, March 1

CORN ISLAND

CORN ISLAND

Cinephiles need to see the exquisite and lyrical Georgian drama CORN ISLAND. If it’s not the best contemporary art movie at Cinequest, I’ll be shocked.  Today’s other best picks:

  • CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA: The ever-radiant Juliette Binoche plays an actress now relegated to the older role in her breakthrough play, with her younger role going to Kristen Stewart (All About Eve, anyone?). And Stewart just became the first American actress to win a César (the French Oscar) for this performance.
  • THE CENTER: An absorbing and topical American indie drama about the seductiveness of a cult.
  • DIRTY BEAUTIFUL: An American indie comedy that is decidedly NOT a by-the-numbers battle of the sexes.
  • ASPIE SEEKS LOVE: A surprisingly sympathetic portrait of a guy looking for love like anyone else, but whose social skills are handicapped by Asberger’s.
  • THE CENTER

    THE CENTER

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Cinequest: CORN ISLAND

CORN ISLAND

CORN ISLAND

Cinephiles must see the exquisite and lyrical Georgian drama Corn Island.  If it doesn’t turn out to be the best contemporary art movie at Cinequest 2015, I’ll be shocked.  Corn Island has won nineteen film festival awards and was shortlisted for this year’s Best Foreign Language Picture Oscar.

Director George Ovashvili has created a near-masterpiece of filmmaking with this unhurried yet compelling story.  We learn that each spring, Georgia’s Irguri River creates temporary islands of topsoil that local farmers squat on to grow enough corn to get them through the next winter (when the island will be washed away).  We see an old man choose one particular island of maybe an acre.  He brings his 12- or 13-year-old orphan granddaughter to help him, and they build a shack and plant and cultivate a tiny field of corn.  The audience isn’t really watching corn grow, but we are observing how the man and the granddaughter react to what happens.

The storytelling is remarkably spare.  There’s not even any dialogue during the first 25 minutes – and there are probably only about 30 spoken lines in the entire movie.

The old man is played by veteran Turkish actor Ilyas Salman is a superb performance.  Georgian newcomer Mariam Buturishvili plays the granddaughter.  Her eyes are very expressive, so she doesn’t need to say much.  We watch her show up at the island clutching her doll – and then outgrowing it.

Here’s what you need to know before seeing Corn Island:  the Irguri River separates Georgia from the separatist region of Abkhazia.  The main characters speak Abkhaz. The soldiers patrolling the river are variously Georgian soldiers, Abkhaz militia and Russian peacekeepers.

So settle in for a contemplative experience and just watch this story unfold through Ovashvili’s masterful lens.  Corn Island plays Cinequest again today, March 1 and March 4 at Camera 12.

[MILD SPOILER ALERT:  The filmmakers built their own island in a manmade lake so they could control the water.  And that is the only way that they could have filmed the spectacular climax.]

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Cinequest: GUARD DOG

GUARD DOG

GUARD DOG

The dark and violent Peruvian Guard Dog is set in 2001, five years after a controversial amnesty for the government-sponsored death squads active in the previous decades.  Our protagonist is the vestige of those death squads, an ascetic hit man who still performs some residual executions.  He is a Man On A Mission, and one serious dude.  After his opening hit, he takes out the photo of his victim and burns out the image’s eyes with his cigarette.

Guard Dog is ultimately more of a mood piece than a thriller.  The theme of personal corruption keeps re-emerging, with a grossly rotting apartment ceiling and even a moment of pus-draining.  The most interesting aspect of the story is our anti-hero’s encounters with an unjaded young girl who is, in contrast to him, bubbling and full of life.

I saw Guard Dog’s US Premiere at Cinequest, and it plays the fest again March 4 at the California Theatre and March 6 at Camera 12.

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Cinequest: THREE WINDOWS AND A HANGING

THREE WINDOWS AND A HANGING

THREE WINDOWS AND A HANGING

Made in Kosovo, the powerful drama Three Windows and a Hanging explores each gender’s differing reaction to a wartime atrocity in a traditional culture.  This film is artfully shot, and it’s one of the highlights of Cinequest 2015.  Three Windows and a Hanging was Kosovo’s submission for this year’s Best Foreign Language Picture Oscar.

It’s set in a village where some of the women had been raped while the men were away fighting in the post-Yugoslavia civil wars.  The women haven’t told the men because, in this culture, being raped stigmatizes a woman and brings shame on her family.  When the atrocity surfaces in a newspaper report, the men exclaim,  “Who has done this to us?”.  They’re not talking about the rapists.  They’re talking about the rape victim who has disclosed an event that embarrasses them.  Of course, this victim-blaming only serves to re-traumatize the already devastated and lead to additionally tragic consequences.  It’s a tough subject, but not a tough movie to watch.

Throughout the movie, director Isa Qosja makes superb choices.  He loves shots of loooong duration and they are very effective;   the first five minutes of the movie are in just two shots.  There’s an opening interview, filmed by focusing on the interviewer and her translator, and not even glimpsing the back of the interviewee’s head until the end of the shot.  Before the topic of the interview is revealed, we know that it’s painful because of the nervousness of the interviewer.

There are many brilliantly shot scenes, especially one where a boy offers condolences to a man he passes on a road.  There’s an interaction between three characters, first shot through one character’s armpit, and then from above and finally in a long shot from behind a window – all telling the audience EXACTLY what’s going on with each character irrespective of whether we can hear what they are saying.  And when one character gets some devastating news, he’s in the shower, so we can only see his body stiffen behind the blur of the shower curtain.  It’s really remarkable filmmaking.

Three Windows and a Hanging plays Cinequest again on March 2 and March 7 at Camera 12.

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Cinequest: MILWAUKEE

MILWAUKEE

MILWAUKEE

In the contemporary American dramedy Milwaukee, a bunch of thirty-something friends get together for a weekend at a vacation home.  They drink some wine, resolve to have an Anything Goes night, get high and, before you know it, some partners are swapped.  What could possibly go wrong?

Milwaukee is well-made, even a little slick, and very well-acted.  But there’s really not much to think about after it’s over.

I saw Milwaukee at its world premiere at Cinequest, and it plays again March 1 at Camera 12 and March 4 at the California Theatre.

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Cinequest: SONGS SHE WROTE ABOUT PEOPLE SHE KNOWS

SONGS SHE WROTE ABOUT PEOPLE SHE KNOWS

SONGS SHE WROTE ABOUT PEOPLE SHE KNOWS

Here’s the premise of Songs She Wrote About People She Knows – a dissatisfied but very contained woman adopts the therapeutic device of SINGING her true feelings.  So she expresses her resentments by leaving excoriating singing voicemails. When she melodically rips her ubercaffeinated boss, there is an unintended consequence. Her harangue sparks both his personal interest in her (unwelcome) and a sudden decision to swing his life 180 degrees.  He gloms on to her as he seeks to his artistic dream. It becomes an odd couple movie, where he spends the rest of the movie annoying her (and, believe me, this is not very entertaining).

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