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Cinequest 12 - Film Reviews
February/March 2002 - San Jose, CA
(Films highlighted can be purchased online by clicking the links)
13 Moons
One of those classic indie films that haunts your memory long after you see it, "13 Moons" has a bevy of incredible actors, a brilliant storyline, and wonderful direction by Alexandre Rockwell. The story concerns several lives as they intertwine on one given night - some to find life, some to lose life, others to learn from life. The lessons are all there, just like the real world, only we are given the opportunity to see how things emerge through other people's eyes.

Starring such luminaries as: Steve Buscemi, David Proval, Karyn Parsons, Elizabeth Bracco, and others, this film captivates the mind and the soul. A boy on the verge of death by a rare illness, who happens to be the son of a bail bondsman, must find a suitable donor to save him in a scant few hours. Along the way to locate the known deadbeat donor, several other strangers are trapped along for the ride. All must decide whether or not to stay involved or to let other people's problems not concern their own selves. Moralistic and inventive, "13 Moons" is a work of genius.

Becoming Vex
A film that I had hoped would be much better became little more than an excersize in patience and politeness. Poorly filmed in video with a confusing storyline concerning a man slowly going insane, "Becoming Vex" appeared to be little more than a film made on a bet, or created during a drunken party binge. Director/Writer Brent Sims appears as the lead role, Trust, who is looking for "the signal" in order to wipe it out. Along the way, bloodshed and distrust reign supreme. To this group of attendees, this film was boring beyond words and painful to watch.

The Devil's Tail (Opashkata Na Diawola)
What price will one offer when it's time to pay the devil his dues? Pavel, a composer/musician, has promised his girlfriend Sonya - an opera singer - that he would regain claims to his family home away from the mobsters and corrupt government who control it. Set in modern day, and very realistic Bulgaria, this tale exposes what most citizens in that part of the world already understand to be part of life - the constant struggle against lies and corruption by the mafia in charge. Pavel accepts a monetary buyout for his home, only to find that the price is for him to sell it immediately to the next buyer. Thus, he can never truly own his home, no matter what he does. The buyer symbolically appears here and there in a look of a priestly devil. The title deals with a legend in which one squeezes and keeps a piece of red string, being the devil's tail, in order to control the devil. The lesson to be learned however, is that we are all just plain people and can never truly control any greater evil power. Thus is the view of many former Soviet ruled countries - unfortunately. Photographed nicely with mysterious touches, with a storyline that appears dismal and yet is real life for some, "The Devil's Tail" is a great work by director/producer/writer Dimitar Petkov, along with cinematographer Christo Bakalov. Excellent.

Kaaterskill Falls
A film without a script is doomed to fail, or at least bore the audiences when plot structure runs out. A nice attempt at a creative film, "Kaaterskill Falls" begins to unravel pretty close to the middle of the film. It becomes apparent that a true direction towards the ending has not yet been established and yet the characters move on. The plot line becomes rather silly and mundane and the characters fumble for communicative ideas. It is unfortunate because the filming itself is nicely done. This movie could have actually gone somewhere, but really flails helplessly behind in an attempt to find itself. Not worth the aggrivation - unless the popcorn is really tasty.

The Misanthrope
Great story idea, great actors, but one has to wonder if the jokes are geared towards a very ecclectic crowd. Arthur Artemis is an almost down-and-out teacher who is also failing as an actor. He loses at most everything in life - money, respect, love, etc. An opportunity arises to perform in "The Misanthrope", a very inventive and legendary theater piece, which he loses to a less capable, but better looking actor. When Arthur is placed in the position to make a school play for the youngster he educates, he decides to go with the same play - not really clued in that it may be a bit much for the young students. This film is about as dry of humor as one can find, with touches of dark humor thrown in. What may not work for a mainstream audience is the fact that there are many references - as in-jokes - to obscure theatric pieces, which only the hard-core drama crowd would really know. Thus, it becomes less funny for the regular viewer. My biggest complaint would be that the film itself appears visually as a bit washed-out, reminiscent of a mid-1970s After School Special. That aside, myself coming from a theater background, this film had its few shining moments and works well. Good stuff.

Missing Persons
I have often wondered if I had seen the "worst film ever" already. Now I know that I have. It took a matter of around 15 minutes or so into the film before an almost mad "who can get out of the theater quicker" scramble for the door happened. On the particular night that we viewed "Missing Persons", the only people left in the theater after the mad dash to leave, were the two filmmakers and one other patron, whom I assume was snoozing. "Missing Persons" has so much wrong with it, it is almost impossible to list. As an animated feature, keeping in mind that this was created with software that the filmmakers put-together, this was an absolute schlock! The animation was absolutely horrible. Lines kept moving away from the solid fill colors and would sway here and there. Characters seemed to float when they were supposed to stand still. It appeared beyond computer-generated - of which there is no excuse in this day and age. If one can afford to make a film, one can afford to pay the inexpensive price of a decent animation software. In regards to making your own software (after watching this drivel), all I can suggest is, "Kids. Do not try this at home. Humiliation is a bad thing."

What is this film about? Who the hell knows! A drug lord who doesn't die after having half of his body shot off, with a smart-mouthed robot side-kick, and bumbling detectives. If that tells you the storyline, you are ahead of the audience. Which brings up another folly in filmmaking - the voices were unintelligible and mumbled throughout. This was not a production flaw, it was meant to be that way. Clue to the filmmakers - One needs to hear the words understandably in order to make it actual workable dialogue. Would I suggest this film? I would only suggest burning it. And I mean that with respect. Avoid this at all costs!

Missing Young Woman
Excellently made, but terribly depressing true story about young Mexican women who have been systematically abducted, tortured beyond human comprehension, raped, and murdered in horrific ways. Director/producer Lourdes Portillo showcases this documentary of corruption at every level of police and government in Mexico as random women have been the victims of unspeakable crimes since 1990. These women are all "easy pickings" in their small towns. They do not seem overly concerned - "What can I do?" - nor do they have many choices of where to turn for help. Unfortunately, this film does more than show what is happening in Mexico, it is opening our eyes to what goes on in many countries around the world. If a human being is able to be victimized, chances are that they will be. A sad and unrelenting truth in the human societal condition. Informative, excellently filmed, but as mentioned before, decidedly depressing, "Missing Young Woman" is a film that should be watched, but is hard to do so.

Excellent and timely, "On_Line" examines the world of Internet dating, kinks, porn, and eccentricities, and privacy (or lack of). Director Jed Weintrob has done a great job bringing the still somewhat underground world of the Net into the standard public's view. Several very charismatic characters intertwine in their own tales of love, woe, friendship, and desires - to finally come to a climax of realizations. Tasteful, yet partially erotic and vulgar, comedic with plenty of drama, "On_Line" is one of those modern-day world masterpieces.

Pizza Wars: The Movie
Director Babak Sarrafan has woven together an absolute splendid tale of pizzas, genies, and wishes come true in this truly comedic tale. Two bumbling pizza delivery boys (of large proportion) discover Gene in a magical water-pipe. They use his wish grantings in order to combat the huge Ozcorp company from taking over all pizza companies, thus guaranteeing them their family owned business' success. This movie was quite amusing, and a very good effort from Sarrafan. If this is any indication of his other works, look forward to some great comedies.

The Search For John Gissing
This film is HILARIOUS!!! One of the funniest comedies I have seen in a long, long time. Director/screenwriter Mike Binder has created a masterpiece with this film. Starring Mike Binder in the lead role as Matthew, the fumbling corporate lackey sent to England to relocate with his wife, a splendid Janeane Garofalo, the comedy of errors does not stop for this poor man. Alan Rickman stars as John Gissing, the saboteuring company man who is about to be ousted by the very person he is to train to replace him - and thus makes every attempt to sidetrack Matthew. Not since "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" has there been this many natural comedic outlays. The story, the characters, the interactions - it all works, and very well. Brilliant! A must see!!

The world of tribute bands is a bizarre one for sure. The need to be someone other than yourself just to be a rock star may not seem obvious to many, but to the musicians showcased in this film documentary, it is everything. From KISS to Journey to the Monkees, there are tales for everyone about how the world of tribute bands is rife with infighting, egos, downfalls, and disgust - just like in the real world - along with the occasional fame, recognition, and respect (far and few between). As a musician, I had to watch this film, but was honestly disgusted in the end for how it all comes together for these bands. Personally, I would stick with doing your own music - fame or not. As a documentary, this film had the humor and pathos, along with the drama and direction. Well done by Kris Curry, Rich Fox, and exec prod. Steven "Sex, Lies & Videotape" Soderbergh.

Yank Tanks
If there is a living automotive museum, Cuba is it. Since the embargo's in the 1950s, many Cubans have done their best to maintain and preserve these wonderful, mostly American-made machines. These are their lives and livelihood, as well as their method of transport and income. A wonderful view of Cuban lives along with visions of automotive genius. "Yank Tanks" is a wonderful documentary taking us into the nostalgic while keeping us rooted in the modern world.

Breeding Space
Director Laurns Van Charante brings to film the classic tale of "The Man Who Loved Snails" by Highwater. A bored company man finds a hobby when discovering snails - meant for a party escargot - copulating in their dish. He begins to explore every avenue of the unipods and is fascinated by their mating rituals - buying more and more to examine. Eventually, as with any obsession, he becomes literally trapped in his own creation. Excellently filmed and directed, with great characters/actors, as well as mostly true representation of the original story. Great stuff!

As far as suspense goes, one could not do much better than this film. Absolute genius in the writing and directing department as this psuedo-horror/thriller follows the final hours of a doting mother attempting to protect her daughter when chaos and supernatural events take place in her upper-class home. In the end, we find that - as in real life (and after-life) things are not always as they seem. Admittedly, the very first hints of horror bordered on a possible bad comedic piece, it very quickly changed pace into what it intended to be. Effective and disturbing, "Daughter" deserves every award that it has garnered so far. Brilliant work, and one of the scariest films I have seen - even if it is only 10 minutes long.
Other Cinequest Film Festival Coverage
Written by Philip Anderson

Philip Anderson is a musician, in addition to being a writer/photographer. He has performed as a guitarist/vocalist, as well as songwriter, in several bands over the past 20 years. As a writer and photographer, he has been published by several magazines and in several books, and had his works appear on television.

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