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Cinequest 17 - Film Reviews
Feb. 27 - March 9, 2008 - San Jose, CA

This was the opening night film, and appropriately so as a lighthearted affair to begin the festival. With its offbeat sense of style and subtle humor set in a trailer park go-nowhere community, the tale conveyed several ideas at us, while keeping it entertaining. It seemed to both mirror some aspects of the audience's lives, and yet was in some far-off world that many of us may never have visited. The main lesson was in learning to accept ourselves for who we are and the lot we have been given in life. At the same time, the characters in the film didn't really have much of any lives to begin with, so it would seem apparent that any chance to get out and go further would be best taken. Ultimately they don't, which is part of how it mirrors much of regular America. Many people work day to day, hoping to just wake up the next morning, let alone get a bonus plan handed to them.

The main character, Shroeder Duncan (his name already echoing one of the seemingly 'go-nowhere' kids of "Peanuts" fame) is a wash-out baseball player, living his meager existence in a trailer park, with his wife Bonnie, and assortment of neighbors. The story meanders between subtle comedy of errors, and a charcoal drama of a life not worth living, but not able to be escaped. What to do? Not much apparently. Shroeder finds a means out through a sort of "get rich quick" scheme that would ultimately take him to Australia - having to leave his wife in the process, as "she deserves someone better" anyway. One might expect that a character who seems to want to better himself, would also have the moral standing to involve his wife, rather than leave her high and dry - and in a trailer park, no doubt. The supporting characters are amusing in their own way, although more saddened losers than lovable sidekicks. No one ever seems to have a dream in this film. Some might find this film a bit futile and depressing, while I didn't quite see it so dark. The buffoonery of it all kept the interest factor going in just enough intervals during the film, but in the end, nothing really happens. Good film, not great, not outstanding, but it holds its own.

Notable stars are Thomas Lennon (Shroeder) who plays the flamboyant Lt. Jim Dangle on "Reno 911!" and Karl Wolfschtagg in "Balls Of Fury," Kimberly Williams-Paisley (Bonnie) from "According To Jim" and "We Are Marshall," and Stephnie Weir of "Mad TV" as neighbor Barb.

TIME TO DIE (Pora Umierac) (Poland)
A wonderfully filmed black and white drama about a 91 year old woman, living her quiet life in her beloved, yet aging home, who is persistently pestered by scheming neighbors, on one side, along with her greedy and unappreciative son, to sell her property and move out, while disturbed on the other side by her nicer neighbors who host a somewhat noisy children's music club. Actress Danuta Szaflarska, herself 91 at the time of filming (in 2006), was quite adept with her character of Aniela, maintaining just enough mystery of what was going through her mind at each moment. She was also rather spry, as she would chase kids out of her yard, and running down the stairs to answer the phone. She is a bit stubborn, yet introspective in trying to figure out her life.

The film itself focuses on her inner mindset as she tries to figure out what the world is doing around her, and if she is reacting properly or being stuck in her life as she knows it. She is joined by a very expressive dog, her faithful companion, who seems to alternately mirror Aniela's thoughts, while being her counterpart and sometimes irking her. Watching the interaction between the dog, Phila, and Aniela almost carries the movie itself. As time goes by, and developers are continuously harassing Aniela to sell the property, she finally comes to a decision that satisfies the best of ideas, by saving the house, allowing herself a place to stay there, and helping out the local children to better themselves, while being a savior to the nicer neighbors. There is humor enough throughout, although subtle in spots, and portions of the film that sometimes might seem a bit long for American audiences, but it all works together nicely.

This film works best by being done in black and white, as it draws attention truly to the story and the characters. I'm not sure if it would have worked as well in color. The visuals are striking, the acting is well-done, and the story compelling. Ms. Szaflarska won Best Actress for this film in the 32nd Polish Film Festival. As well, do the exceptional skills of the dog, the audiences demanded a special canine award for the dog as well. A delightful film, harkening back to the grand days of filmmaking, that is heartwarming in the end, though not sappy in any sense. Although a subtitled European film, the story still carries over to practically any audience. Excellent.

The screening that we attended was packed, and the audiences silent. Both of us watched, and wondered, and stared, trying to make some sense of the visuals upon the screen, as well as the rather directionless dialogue. In the end, the only word we could think of was - atrocious! We really tried to understand the direction that this film was taking, but couldn't get past the truly horrid style in which it was made. This is said from one who appreciates all different genres of film, including some hard-to-grasp art-house-only fare. To be honest, we had to leave before the end, as not only had we lost any sense of idea, but we could not care less how the thing would end.

I understand that the filmmaker is well-liked, friendly, and marketed the hell out of this feature, but that leaves no reason to be dishonest in a review. The only thing that I personally gathered from "Around The Bay" was that it concerned a father, and his son, and some women in his life. Much of the dialogue was not enunciated in a way that made one pay attention. And - in all fairness - this was amongst the worst chop-up editing jobs I have ever seen in any film. Period! Jump, jump, jump, with no end. A scene plays out - cut - continuation of the same scene, but lasting only 10 to 30 seconds, and with no sound at all - cut - next scene - continue. It jumped constantly from dialogue to outdoor scene to ducks on a pond to more dialogue to dad making breakfast while zoning out with girls chatting incoherently in the background to more inane scenery. Who cares?! Tell the damned story. Oh, I could go on a rant, but it wouldn't say it any better than the above. I found it amazing/amusing to read one comment that had said that this would be a film that "one hopes to discover at Cinequest." (RvB - Metro). I could only believe that if Cinequest was hoping to drive away the majority of their ever-increasing crowds. Bad idea. Another comment from a viewer was (his opinion) that "this film was not so much about what was said, but what was not said." Even the silence said nothing. Films should have a direction, a purpose, and some ability to keep an interest. Films should NOT be praised and "loved" upon just because people like the filmmaker (not saying that is the case with everyone). It is unfair, and insulting. But I have noticed quite of a bit of comments in the past from viewers, and others who have said the equivalent of "I feel bad when seeing some of these films, because I hated some of them, but I like the filmmakers, and then have to lie to them." This may not be something anyone wants to hear, but it's been a quote I have heard a few times during this festival. Viewers should be honest. And in our honest opinion, this film should be avoided at all costs.

Director Chris Ford's first time out as a filmmaker / director / writer scores a huge hit with a wonderful comedy / coming of age tale. "The Village Barbershop" is a story of barber Art Loroldi, a grumpy barber with past issues. As his business begins to suffer (due to mismanagement), he is forced to do the unthinkable (as a "man's man") and hires a woman, Gloria (Shelly Cole of "Gilmore Girls"). Gloria is a bit brash at the onset, but ends up being his business mind that gets him in gear. As well, although she has plenty of issues of her own, she ends up bringing out Art's personality, and helping him to live again. Intertwined between these two is a cast of characters all with their own tales to tell. Together they make the film move along at a good pace. Not to forget the comic relief of Art's neighboring stoner trio, who are forever forging mischief, while perhaps not realizing it between bong hits. The filming itself is done nicely, with good editing, some some nice scenery. For a first time effort, this was a winner and not to be missed. Expect great things from Chris Ford in the future.

An exceptionally well-made and powerful piece that focuses on women and their body images. This tells an interesting diametric between Lydia, a genuinely overweight retail clerk, and Darcy, an anorexic real estate agent who envisions her stick-figure self as obese, and the friendship bond that they form. This film could have dove into some characteristic fat and skinny jokes, and maybe even gotten a bit darker than it should, but instead, it touched on the subjects with care and intelligence that, if nothing else, will give the audience a means to look at themselves, and perhaps understand what others go through.

Director Glenn Gers expertly touches upon this tale from thoughts that he had had himself about how women saw themselves. Through some research and good dialogue writing, the film touches upon a wide variety of issues that surround obesity, anorexia, self-envisionment, and the anger that can arise. Much of the dialogue was ad-libbed by the actors, given only the instructions to follow whatever they would normally say or want to talk about - especially during the social group for fat people scenes. Should obese people accept the term "fat," or embrace it? Should other people be forced to face them and deal with it? Would boycotting help? What about anorexics who view themselves as fat, and think others see them that way? Should fat people take offense, or be more understanding of their plight?

There are places of slight unreality, and some questionable discussions of how certain things might be handled, but it's not so much that it affects the outcome of the film and its message. One thing to point out as well are the main actresses - neither of whom has any major personal issues in their real lives. Staci Lawrence, who plays anorexic Darcy, is actually without any eating disorder, and actually truly loves food, but happens to have a very active metabolism, as well, aside from acting, she is a professional stand-up comedian. Deirdra Edwards, who plays Lydia, does not have dating issues as does her character, and has been quite happy in a relationship for many years. Overall, "Disfigured" is compelling, and excellently made. Recommended for everyone to see, to help promote better understanding of ourselves.

THE SUBSTITUTE (Vikaren) (Denmark)
Great film, cool story, already done by Miramax in 1998, as the film, "The Faculty." When I first heard about "The Substitute," I was excited to see it. But soon after, I started remembering "The Faculty" and the same storyline - students discover that their teacher is an alien from outer space, and intent on changing them (or killing them, as it may be). Actress Paprika Steen does a great job as the condescending substitute teacher who insults her students in order to "better themselves" in preparedness for a competition in Paris, France. The reality is that she has other plans of travel for the kiddies, far and away into space. In "The Faculty," the main antagonist claims to only want to better our apathetic and angry world and make it harmonious. In "The Substitute," alien Ulla is supposedly desperate to discover what love is - something they do not have on her home planet. Even the tentacle-showing scene appears to be similar. As it is, I enjoyed the American film, and I enjoyed the newer Danish rip-off. OK, not exactly a rip-off, but you can decide by the descriptions above. Either way, the tale is well told, and the film has its moments of fright, and Danish black humor. One stand-out line was when Ulla attempts to convince youngster Carl of her supposed true intentions. He responds with "It's not working.", which follows with, "Oh damn." by Ulla. Funnier on the screen, but you get the idea. Director/writer Ole Bornedal had a previous hit, with a U.S. remake, in the film "Nightwatch," which was equally thrilling. If you're in the mood for European Sci-Fi horror with that Danish touch, this is a sure hit.

This is a film that could have had a bigger budget look, but ultimately comes of as standard indie fare. From a technical standpoint, it has its weaknesses. The dialogue is OK, nothing outstanding or memorable outside of a few catchy lines - of which, some were spoken too quietly or abruptly. The acting was good, although not always consistent.

While the majority of the film was nicely shot, there was an abundance of poorly lit scenes. These particular scenes consisted of color inconsistencies, overly dark subjects, wash-out back lighting, and some that appeared grainy due to exposure issues. For an indie film, this is forgivable, but as I mentioned, this film could have had an overall great appearance if only these issues had been addressed during production. It's a shame that they weren't.

This is an interesting film for sure. It really follows the cliche of taking you on twists were you don't really know what's coming next. "The End" is a story about Joseph, a man who has visions - or rather, sees things that other people cannot see (such as sound).

In some ways, the story is written more for an educated crowd, and may fall short to those bred on quick action ADD-era filmmaking. This is more of a cerebral tale that masquerades in the guise of a potential mystery or horror film, while examining our purpose, as humans, for existence. Dabbling in existentialism, "The End" focuses much of its storyline on Joseph's previous experiences being tied into his current - possibly delusional - "abilities" of psychic nature. The subtext is if Joseph might in fact just be deranged, suffering from mental disorders as his father had. One never really knows. And even at the end, there may be discussion of what the true meaning is - thus going back to the whole storyline to begin with, "What does it all mean?".

Cleverly written, albeit a bit thick in the classic "indie film" style of dialogue, "The End" offers up an interesting sidetrack from standard film fare. I can't say that I was thrilled by the acting - a few moments were rather mundane and "read straight from the script" in delivery (a girl in the classroom questioning detective Claire) - but overall it was well-executed. For the story’s uniqueness alone, this destined to be a cult favorite is a must-see.

I love this film! Sheer brilliance in execution. Provides a great mix of late 1970s punk nihilism with 1980s New Wave culture, mixed all tidy with the current trends. A steady nod towards the Richard Hell "Blank Generation" video and style, in the sense of misunderstanding the difference in concept between "blank" being "go nowhere, be nothing" and the more corporate "fill in the blanks" for whatever the latest trends are. That was the misconception of the Richard Hell song, album, and film in both title and substance, and it was continued in this film. In this case, the "blank" to be filled in was the "new" Bob Dylan of "our generation." The characterizations are brilliant as the cast of crazies run amok trying to find themselves. This is one of those "sure bet" cult films, but it would be nice to see it in the theaters. With the right marketing, this could be a big hit.

Witness the falling out and breakdown of the band Tenacious-D. Though many fans claim Tenacious-D as the band to see, after watching the live tidbits within this film, I've come to realize that it's a one-joke pony, and it's ride was done before it left the stable. Nothing about Ten-D is particularly hilarious. Most of it revolves around Jack Black, and then only because of his celebrity notoriety. This put Karl Gass in an awkward position as being not even second fiddle. There are scenes in the film where journalists and producers are outright rude, going beyond even the realm of tactless, as they basically as Gass to disappear so they can concentrate on Black. It becomes unbearable to watch such human examples. But then, you think back to why it works to begin with. Black himself is amusing, but that cuteness appeal of his will eventually wane. For now, it wasn't enough to even maintain Ten-D. Overall this is a film about two comedians, with a schtick that isn't particularly great, being handled improperly, and eventually leading to a breakup of not just a business arrangement, but possibly a friendship. Depressing.

THE TRAP (Klopka) (Serbia)
Darkness and depression make for hard choices in post-Communist Serbia, as our main character is placed in a position from which he cannot escape. What does one do when one makes a deal to avoid a problem, without seeing how big the problem can become combined with never-ending turmoil? This is the basis of "The Trap." Well written, even if some of the concepts might not be as well understood by more Westernized cultures. This provides a glimpse into a world that exists alongside ours, and will take a long time to unravel itself. Distrust and disruption rule the day for the characters in this film. A definite go to film for mystery lovers.

RUBY BLUE (Britain)
A wonderfully acted film featuring likable Brit actor Bob Hoskins as a somewhat down-and-out father and widower who is trying to reclaim his life. Along the way, he must deal with an unforgiving son, untrusting neighbors, the new girl in the neighborhood who asks him to babysit, children in general (whom he doesn't particularly care for), and a lady admirer who may have some surprises of her own. The story generally is a lesson about acceptance, trust, and tolerance. Bob's character is accused of pedophilia, to which his son comes to his aid, which brings their relationship closer. The neighborhood splits in sides when a little girl disappears, and all eyes are on the single widower. Very well made. Great story. Exceptional acting and characters. A must see.

This is simply about... Young People Fucking. Relationships, one-night stands, misunderstandings, impotence, it’s all covered in this humorous look into what makes couples “do it.” The writing wit is fantastic in a subject that is normally taboo except in “adult” circles. This is a great date movie if you want to “loosen someone up” (so to speak). At least it will open up a line of conversation. From the “just friends” couple, to the stud boy attempting to seduce a supposed naive girl, to the “open relationship” couple whose boyfriend wants his girl to fuck his roommate so that she can “get it out of her system” and then can get on with life, this film really doesn’t miss much. Love it, love it, love it!

Other Cinequest Film Festival Coverage
Written by Philip Anderson and Keith Denison

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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