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Cinequest 21 - FILM REVIEWS
March 1-13, 2011 - San Jose, CA
Amongst the many fine cinematic offerings at this year's Cinequest, these were a sampling of the films we attended..

BAD BEHAVIOUR
This is a film by Australian first-time feature filmmaker Joseph Sims, taken in part from his only other film, a previous short.

“Bad Behaviour” bases itself on what happens when minds and behaviors twist into self-serving realities and how that affects others. Although the tag line of the film states “Bad things happen to bad people,” the unfortunate reality is that bad things happen to good people as well, while hopefully concluding in consequences for those who bring the bad.

In “Bad Behaviour” it is difficult to pinpoint who to root for, as no one is particularly “good” by nature, but yet the ambiance of the film suggests certain charms for each of the characters. You may not like them as people, but you do become familiarized and comfortable with them.

The main characters of the film are a brother and sister team, as opposed to the usual tried-and-true lovers, who become unhinged and fancy themselves as a bit of a modern day Bonnie and Clyde, albeit a touch more violent, and for no useful reason. The sister makes the plans, and Peterson does the dirty work.

They are apparently pursued, at some point, by a mob leader to whom they owe money. This character himself is annoyed with the violent flamboyance in which the brother and sister behave, although not even close to being a more likable person himself. Along the path of destruction, many lives are encountered and touched, while bringing in side stories that as well are affected.

The use of music and sound is fantastic, and quite unique, as it changes the entire landscape of the film and story. At no point can one expect the “usual” sonics of danger, romance, peace, action, etc. Each scene is carefully tendered, musically, to unnerve the viewer, changing the mood and expectations. There is something sensually charging about seeing blood spatter while hearing the gentle sounds of opera or violins. The soundtrack varies constantly between music styles - classical, garage pop/rock, opera, 60s British Invasion rock, etc. The music itself is worth watching the film.

There are a few scenes of almost unintentional over-the-top humor mixed in with some classical 70’s styled rampant violence along with standard drama, and some very well-written dialogue. The film maintains the darkness of the characters with subtlety, as it weaves its way around different feelings. The editing takes you away, at moments, from the darker story direction, only to slam you back into place. “Bad Behaviour” forays into a brilliant new style of exploitation films.

This is a fine example of just how well a film could be made, even by a first-time feature filmmaker, when paying attention to the intricacies of how visuals, style, and sound work together to manipulate an audience. There really are no excuses for bad art, subjective as art may be, when one applies ones’ self. Granted, “Bad Behaviour” is made that much better by the use of some very talented actors, and an exceptional soundtrack composer, but as both director and co-producer, Joseph Sims has created a world in which we can truly get lost in, and appreciate as an art form more than just a film.

MIDNIGHT SON
As horror movies go, most are tried and true with every variation of tales seemingly done already. It’s refreshing to see a genuinely new twist to an old tale. Midnight Son provides just that turn of events in this version of vamprism.

What if vamprism was more a disease, and one didn’t know he was infected? Thus is the story of Jacob, a nighttime security guard, who has lived his whole life with a rare skin disorder that prevents his being in sunlight, and an ever-evolving appetite. He lives mostly alone, while meting out his existence, until he meets Mary, a cigarette girl. As feelings rise, so do urges that become increasingly uncontrollable - which leads to a grisly relationship based on trust, revelations, and a bizarre hunger, which ultimately could be the end of loneliness.

An excellently written and filmed story, with quite believable characters, set in a theme that quite possibly could be real. This asks the question, “What if?” in several different ways, while exploring the nature of human existence, and aptly alters an already overexposed plot subject into a fresh realm of interest.

PASSIONE
Actor John Turturro (“O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” “Barton Fink”) has long loved the music of Naples, Italy, and wanted to explore the beauty, heritage, and sounds in a film format that could do it justice. He does just that with this wonderfully created, and aptly titled, “Passione.” The film presents the passion of Italy, specifically Naples, with its cross-cultural influences on the people, the neighborhoods, the performers, and most importantly, the music that inspires everything. “Passione” easily is one of the best films shown at the Cinequest Film Festivals. It brings emotions, and guarantees smiles and foot tapping, and Turturro examines how the music flows and changes through the ages, and through different neighborhoods. Along with the musical foray, we are treated to a rather concise history lesson about Naples, and how people and music has influenced and changed it through the years.

The performances, along with the incredible soundtrack, make for a wonderful work of cinematic art, that is accented with Turtuorro as “tour guide” with his commentaries tossed in along the way. This is a must-not-miss film for anyone of any age. If you didn’t know what to love about Italy already, this will put a sure thought into your mind and heart.

SOUL SURFER
A stirring, memorable film regarding the true story of surfer Bethany Hamilton and her harrowing ordeal, which drove her to become one of the best, and certainly one of the most inspirational athletes of our day.

At age 13, Bethany lost her arm in a freak shark attack, while surfing. An event such as that is enough to destroy many people’s resolve. “Soul Surfer” covers Bethany’s life following the attack, and her struggles and triumphs that followed.

Bethany is portrayed by AnnaSophia Robb (“Charlie & The Chocolate Factory,” “The Reaping”), who was an excellent choice for the film, as well as bearing a resemblance to the film’s subject.

Whether one is into surfing, or finding spirituality, or just looking for a good drama, this film delivers on all counts. The acting is well-performed, and knowing that this is a true story adds to the power of the film and its imagery. Bethany’s spirit had been ripped apart by the shark attack, but she survived, persevered, and reemerged as a stronger person - both physically and spiritually - who went on to be not only a great sportsman, but a humanitarian as well - using her own fears, and abilities, to not only overcome her own handicaps, but to help children in tsunami-devastated Thailand get over the horrors that they had to live through during the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.

“Soul Surfer” - nicely titled in its varietal meanings - was exceptionally shot, with great character portrayals by some top-notch actors (Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, Craig T. Nelson) along with singer Carrie Underwood, which story and morals leaves the viewer exhilarated, as well as challenged with the thought of how we each might overcome horrendous odds that vastly change our lives. Excellent.

THE DEAD
Another great horror film shown at Cinequest, which is a new twist on an old and overused plot subject. Zombies. There is an overabundance of zombie films out there, dating back decades, with only so many ways to make “dead people become reanimated” seem interesting. But co-writer / director Howard J. Ford has done just that.

Although the subject matter is technically horror, Ford’s original concept was more of a partnered “road movie,” a drama of sorts, with characters attempting to beat the odds while on a trek and a quest, while discovering new things about themselves and the world around them along the way. There are the differences, the camaraderie, and the spirituality that come when two strangers from different worlds must work together to save themselves and each other.

Imagine a world where a apocalypse of sorts just suddenly happened with no rhyme nor reason, where people around you suddenly died and came back, eager to kill. Around every turn could be mortal danger. In the usual zombie films, there is a reason, and there are places to hide. But imagine no explanations, and the event occurring in Africa, across the open plains, with no place to hide, and no place safe. The only safe haven is by constantly keeping on the move, never knowing where you are headed. Such is “The Dead,” an agoraphobic fright-fest whose scares come more with the silence and threat, rather than gore and action.

A war-torn region in Africa, with enough horrors of combat and victimization, suddenly is overtaken by dead people rising. A military engineer survives an attempted evacuation, only to find himself on the beach being approached by something he could never imagine. He attempts his own escape and encounters a local soldier who had returned to the area to check on his village and family. Both men bond in a mutual need for survival, while on separate spiritual missions as well. The sun scorches during the day, the dead continue to return and kill, and the arid landscape makes the duo open targets.

Much of what creates the fear and dread of “The Dead” are the ambient sounds, lacking music, of a “dead wind,” or “earthy breaths,” along with the alternately treacherous yet beautiful landscapes. “The Dead” was shot creatively, with very good yet minimal use of sounds, and believable actors. Much of what was seen lent to an idea of “What if that really happened to me?” while the viewer is left to wonder what is coming next.

DYING TO DO LETTERMAN
The true story of comedian Steve Mazan, who had a dream as many other comedians, to appear on the David Letterman Show. The difference with Steve was that he had been diagnosed with cancer, and wanted to make his dream come true while he had time. This is a documentary that follows the intent, the struggles, the rejections, and triumphs of Steve Mazan as he tries hard to make his dream succeed. This film is filled with laughter and tears, as we in the audience all rooted for Steve to make it. As far as the ending, everyone will have to see it for themselves. For a documentary, and for such a touchy subject (cancer), this film is cleverly made, while not dwelling on the more obviously depressing sides of the story. It ultimately is a triumphant film in spirit if nothing else. And it's inspirational to anyone who chooses to give up when given an dour prognosis. Anything can happen, and many times it does.

NANNERL, MOZART'S SISTER
An insightful film about a little known subject in history, Nannerl, the sister of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. One can only imagine how hard it would be as a sibling of arguably the world's most famous composer. This film delves into the life of Nannerl and all that she had to go through to prove herself as a competent composer in her own right. Ultimately, her time was never to come, as women were still looked down upon in the creative worlds. As the drama unfolds, and the story is told, it ultimately is a sad tale as Nannerl would take her place in history as the caretaker of her brother's fame and works upon his passing - ensuring that the world would forever be enriched by Amadeus' works, if not her own.'

THE LIVERPOOL GOALIE
A Norwegian film, "The Liverpool Goalie" is a cute, comedic story about childhood hopes, aspirations, and young love. Soccer is everything to the kids in a small neighborhood, where a shy, nervous Jo is on the lookout for a rare trading card of the legendary "Liverpool goalie," and discovers love with the new girl. Very well written, Scandinavian films might have a stigma dating back to Ingmar Bergman films, as being stoic, but in fact there are some true gems that would be equally popular around the world, and especially with American audiences. This is one of those films. Excellently mix of comedy, coming of age, and characterizations.

THE NOBEL PRIZE WINNER
A very well written dark comedy about a writer with severe writer's block, whose "final" work is published under false pretenses after he stages his own disappearance. Many bizarre twists and turns, quite unexpected, keep the viewer riveted until the end. The characters are amusing, if strange, and the story flows well. It would be nice for American audiences to see this quirky Dutch film, if only more people would be willing to accept subtitles.

SHORTS: MINDBENDERS
Mindbenders are amongst the favorite short films to view at Cinequest Film Festival. Dark, disturbing, sometimes insightful, but always captivating. The following are a sampling of this year’s collection:

White - A disturbing Israeli-made film about a man entrapped in a seeming torture room, being watched by a group of women. There is no sense of time, nor reason, keeping the story moving with no real clues of what is to come. It covers some emotional lines of trust, fear, and sense-deprivation, as the man attempts to escape, only to fail repeatedly.

The Story Of My Life - A French film that really can bother the viewer. What is a well-dressed stranger approached you, and knew every intimate detail of your life, from childhood. Such is the tale of a woman on a busy street who is approached by a seemingly friendly man, who becomes increasingly creepy with the amount of information he knows about her. The end is, well, the end.

Out Of Nowhere - Reality looping, characters changing, and a road that one can never get off of. “Out Of Nowhere” leaves a claustrophobic feeling, as two men - a hitchhiker and a helpful driver - travel through the desert, only to find the world growing increasingly more bizarre. Beware of people who offer you a ride. And know that Einstein’s theory that insanity is someone repeating the same thing but expecting different results, may not stand true.

A Day In The Country - An interesting tale explored from the perspective of a newly “born” zombie, as a man is looking for his family during a planned roadside park picnic.

By A Hair - When you are told as a child to not pick at those zits on your face, take heed. A man gets much more than he bargains for when he discovers a new hair on his chin.

41 - A museum goer finds he gets more information than he bargained for when using his self-guided tour earpiece. As he sees numbers associated with strangers around him, along with the art pieces, he is able to hear everyone’s personal, detailed futures. This frightens and excites him. But what happens when someone else spies upon him?

Interview - A well-written piece about a detective visiting a suspected serial killer. Who is truly interviewing whom, as the viewer is led down a path of confusion. Nothing better than unexpected plot twists.

SHORTS: COMEDY
The comedy short films are excellent at Cinequest, as they are, well, short and to the point, but always able to illicit chuckles and gasps. Sometimes the humor is not what one expects, and maybe is defined differently, but they are almost always good.

Not Your Time - Sid Rosenthal dreamt of being famous on Broadway, in ways that Bob Fosse created, as seen in the opening number (which continues through the film). Jason Alexander (“Seinfeld”) plays a great nervous “wanna be” writer / creator, with very Jewish leanings and mannerisms (made almost funnier during the introduction by younger versions of himself). Along his path, he finds the truth about the entertainment world, with all its lies, bureaucracies, temptations, and failures, and finds he just doesn’t want to commit anymore. While trying to get out of it all, he realizes it’s just not his time.

Delmer Builds A Machine - As kids go, they get into plenty of mischief - both planned and unplanned. Boys will definitely be boys and attempt to build contraptions, many times annoying parents. But what if a child goes too far during his attempt at greatness? Delmer discovers he could be in big trouble after trying out his latest creation, which raises quite a few questions in the end.

Enrique Wrecks The World - An animated version of the “Butterfly Effect” where one action can make huge differences on the world around us, as discovered by a bully who carelessly does as he pleases, until...

Hello Caller - A hilarious tale of suicide, sex, and mix-ups. This story was very well written with great dialogue between a severely depressed woman, and a “call center operator” who engages in conversation.

Careful With That Crossbow - One of those ideas of accidents that could happen to any of us, which would be both funny, and troublesome. A boy, a girl, a crossbow, and unsuspecting people nearby.

Lest We Forget - When a bully husband pulls the last straw of abuse in front of two neighborly ex-military men sitting on the side of the road, payback can really be rewarding.

Captain Fork - The only film which I personally did not find funny, nor that entertaining. Call me silly, but something about wishing your child was dead, and how to make it happen, just doesn’t sit as comedy with me - at least not the way in which this film was shot. A dad who doesn’t want to be a dad, spends time daydreaming about his run-of-the-mill son being “removed” from his existence, and how much sexual attention he could get from women while he “grieves” is the basis of this tale. The acting is good enough, but the story drags a bit, and just isn’t that funny.

Written by Philip Anderson / Keith Denison / Louise Fill

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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