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Cinequest 22 - FILM REVIEWS
Feb. 28 - March 11, 2012 - San Jose, CA

Amongst the many fine cinematic offerings at this year's Cinequest, these were a sampling of the films we attended..

Based on the true (and continuing) story of Aung San Suu Kyi, an activist in Burma who has dedicated her life to restoring balance in one of the worst countries in the world. The film itself was shot beautifully, and brought both heartache and love as it showed the life of Aung San Suu and her marriage, and the strain put in between as she becomes a target of a military coup in her native Burma. The film does well to open the eyes of viewers to how military run countries work, while showing the love and heartbreak of a husband, wife, and children who are perpetually torn apart throughout the years, while desperately wanting to be together.

When first watching “The Lady,” everything comes across fine, and there is enough interest garnered in doing more homework on the subjects after the film concludes. It carries well as a drama, as done by legendary French director Luc Besson (“5th Element”). However, upon reflection, and from a more purist point of view, the film actually is edited poorly, with poor consistency. There are many segments taken for granted that may not be so apparent right away, but definitely require reexamination to fill in blanks later. Two parts that stick in my mind include a scene after Aung San Suu’s house arrest had been terminated, many monks traveled to show their support at her residence. In the film, this appears as a happy moment. What the film fails to cover is that she had been placed under house arrest once more, and many monks were massacred due to their defiance by showing up. As well, after Aung’s release from house arrest, it becomes apparent later that she was once again under arrest, but at no point in the film did it hint to when that happened, and IF in fact it had happened. (It actually happened many times throughout her life in Burma.)

Another problem I had with the film’s tone overall was that, yes, Burma appears as a somewhat miserable place with social unrest and an unfair governing body, akin to any other third world nation with moderate problems. But in fact, Burma is considered one of the world’s worst places, with amongst the lowest scoring in medical care, social rights, and teeming in human trafficking, slavery, and sex trade. And that is putting it mildly. The film could have done much more to convey the atrocities, and less on the love story, to give more motivation for people to get involved in helping. But then, ultimately it was the filmmaker’s vision.

Note: Since “The Lady” showed at Cinequest Film Festival, Aung San Soo Kyi’s motorcade was just attacked on Tues. March 6th in Burma, as she attempted to re-register her political party in time for the next elections. She is unharmed but apparently Burma’s ruling government still does not like her.

A hilarious Norwegian comedy about the still mostly unheard of sport of Curling. Think of this as the “Big Lebowski” of the curling circuit. The basic format of the story is a former glory curling team needs to bail out their former coach with a lung transplant, but need to raise money by winning another tournament. The problems begin with main character Truls Paalsen having mental problems (delusions, twitches, and such), a bizarre yet horny ex-girlfriend, and focusing issues. But through it all, Truls remains the best curler there is, and the team can honestly stand a chance to win - if only they can keep all their personal issues together. The comedy flies throughout this film, and is done in a way that only Scandinavians can do it - so it might be a bit lost for some American audiences. But for the rest of us, this is slapstick and quirkiness at its finest. A high recommendation for this fun flick. (To note: The film was mistitled at Cinequest. It is actually "Curling King" in English, or "Kong Curling" in Norwegian.)

The story of President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldive Islands, this documentary followed Nasheed’s intensive journey to save both his home country, as well as the world. As it is, Global Warming is a controversial issue with as many naysayers as pro-actives. After being sworn in as President in 2008, Nasheed began a mission to get all the major nations to promise reduction of carbon in the atmosphere. A safe number was 350 ppm, and at that time it was approaching 387. He succeeded in Copenhagen by having the major nations all agree to reduce carbon output, the first time in history, although the document was meaningless in the end, as it did not enforce any actions. However, as the leader of a seemingly insignificant country, consisting of about 2,000 islands, Nasheed had accomplished the seemingly impossible. This film chronicles the events leading up to the Copenhagen summit for global warming. This documentary was well-filmed and well informed, covering much ground in the short journey. Although the end result may not have been all that was hoped, the film does note that perseverance and conviction can pay off, and that many areas of the world indeed can be greatly endangered if the human species does not pay better attention, with more accountability for its actions.

A film by Amber Sealey about a loveless marriage and its effects. The exhibitionist husband has his frustrations that grow as he and his wife attempt to conceive a child, causing him to try to get laid by another woman, who herself is morose and desperate, and willing to take the cheating husband on. A quick quote to describe this comedic tale of woe is “Fatal Attraction,” but without the “fatal.”

Possibly one of the best feature films at Cinequest this year, due primarily to its flawless flow from comedic documentary-styled oddness into classic horror. All the while, it tells a tale of family togetherness and social implications of how far a family would go to protect a child. The very theme of the film, set and shot in Dublin, Ireland, is alternately comedic and horrific, as a family finds that their child is in fact “Patient Zero,” having become a zombie. A filmmaker comes to town to document the troubles, tribulations, and love that this family endures. It soon becomes apparent that some are in the film for self-glory, while others simply want the true tale to be told. Before long, mayhem ensues. The film works on many levels, while inducing normally very taboo themes and ideas (“Jesus rose from the dead after three days!” “That’s not the same.”) along with some stereotypical self-deprecating humor (“We all speak English... sort of.”) “Portrait Of A Zombie” is filled with brilliant acting and dialogue, while chock-full of genre-references, moral implications, and touching on social issues in its own way. A perfect film overall. If there is a sequel to be made, we want to see it.

A fun, feisty father-daughter comedy-drama set in the world of (very) amateur Canadian wrestling. Main character Fran is hailed as a “sure thing” in the future of wrestling, much against her father’s wishes - her father being an ex-wrestler himself. It doesn’t help that Fran’s new mentor is her father’s ex-tag team partner, with whom he had a nasty falling out. Soon, in comes ex-wife / Fran’s mother to really toss a wrench into matters before deceit shows its ugly head and proper vengeance is sought. The film is nicely done, and could be a “made for cable TV” movie. The subject is endearing and engaging, while the story keeps things moving and lively, along with the characters adding to the overall tone. Many of the extras in the film are local townsfolk, so as to avoid having too many “beautiful people” types, ala Hollywood. Once put together, the film works well, and is worth seeing. We all liked it.

A “film within a film” type of situation when a group of horror film fans attend a party, only to wake up seemingly “living” in the classic zombie film “Night Of The Living Dead.” The strange curiosity of the partygoer’s predicament soon turns to horror as they are picked off by what appear to be real zombies. Soon enough, clues appear as to why they are there, and the real reason becomes even more psychotic. The mystery unravels, the body count grows, and the twists and turns are quite apparent as the film moves along at a quickening pace. Overall, “Mimesis” is a fine feature, while showing a side of societal psychosis of always “wanting more” even in evil situations, but it stops short of being a great horror film. This could definitely make the cult circuit.'

Several quite insightful short film selections that peered into the souls of humans, and a fish. The majority of these films handled their tales aptly, while bringing the emotions out. “Reinaldo Arenas” was a short tale, based on a true story about a shark that had been hunted out of the waters in Miami, by a vagrant who brought it on public transport for all to see. “Smorgasbord” was a comical look at blossoming love, and gastric interests, at a buffet restaurant. “Sailcloth” was a sad look at love lost, and the lengths one goes to attempt to reclaim it. “Sterling Hallard Bright Drake” was a quirky documentary about a not-dead-yet man who created a rather bizarre, and world-wide noted headstone to himself in the Walla Walla, WA area, because “no one understands him.” “Everything Is Incredible” shows how a journey or goal doesn’t always have to have a finished end, so long as the faith to create is there. “In Search Of A Donkey” was a hilarious look at the meaning of a donkey to Christians, as a potential “sacred animal” as imagined through the minds of three confused Japanese men in search of a proper delicacy, as created through a French filmmaker. “The Padlock” was a short, sweet, and entirely funny look at breaking up with someone, Italian style.

This is usually one of Cinequest’s highlights, with a selection of warped and bizarre imagery and ideas in film format. Unfortunately, over the years, it has been a bit hit-or-miss. It seems as though the quality (arguably) alternates every other year (one on, one off). This was an off-year. Although Mindbenders did deliver in quirkiness, the quality just wasn’t there overall. A couple of standouts, and one that qualified more as comedy than dark delivery. However, I must say that at least two filmmakers cleverly were able to get Cinequest to showcase both literal “phone sex” - having sex with a telephone, and an anal rape scene, featuring a demon-possessed woman with a rather large rubber strap-on protuberance “punishing” her reluctant boyfriend, while clad in dominatrix gear. I guess grossness wins out when quality isn’t available. Either way, this particular offering of several films was more of a snore-fest than disturbing best.

A short description would be - stuff happens, and how people deal with it. These offerings provided a look into the human psyche, integrity, and ability to handle issues. Two standouts were “And Winter Slow” about a woman having an affair, while taking care of her very ill husband, and having a drastic reconsideration in an arctic cold setting, and “Winter Frog,” which was a touching tale of discovery.

This Japanese film, done by the filmmaker who brought us “The Ring,” is yet another tale of a subject that seems to frighten Japanese people the most - ghosts. The basic premise is a young female cable-TV show host and her sidekick who cover “things that interest” her. On this particular occasion, they view a DVD that shows a ghostly image in a familiar setting, while seems to change with every viewing. After establishing a ghost possession, it is necessary to confront the ghost on its own turf. Overall, this film took way too long to tell way too short of a story, and became tiresome. As a fan of Japanese horror, one of our gang enjoyed it thoroughly, while the rest of us found it tedious about halfway through. If this is the best that can be done after “The Ring,” the perhaps a different genre of film should be explored.

A brilliant documentary about a very gifted musician, who is a medical marvel - most likely due to his sheer determination and happy demeanor. Jason Becker was only 20 when fame’s knock came to his door. Voted Best Guitarist, and recording with David Lee Roth, Jason could not go on tour as he was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gherig’s Disease), a horrible debilitating illness that is an almost sure death sentence, usually sooner than later. Given 3 to 5 years to live, maximum, in 1989, now in 2012 as people are still discovering his talents, they are also finding that Jason is still alive and composing music. Jason has vowed to continue making music until he absolutely cannot. This film is a true inspiration on many levels. For the terminally ill, it is a testament to never give up the fight. Jason has lived almost 20 years past his “due date,” and still can forge out a half-smile. It is also a testament to talent, as creativity does not need to die in the face of adversity. And it is a testament to Jason’s fans, who still travel the world to come meet him, and share their adulation and inspirations with him. Excellently made, with plenty of injected humor, musical footage, and interviews. A must-see for any music fan, and those interested in learning more about ALS.

A disturbingly dark drama about a boring head-shot photographer in New York, who is continuously dealing with the drowning death of his sister. The death seems to have made an impact such that the main character cannot have true emotions, while believing his finds “connections” with the girls he attempts to date. After a few bizarre turn of events, the mystery begins with new characters introduced, and some going missing. Very well made, creepy and engaging. A must-see for any fan of mystery, thrillers, and quirkiness.

While we looked forward to this film, it was overall a letdown. A rather obvious tale of vampirism and revenge, ultimately this film failed on two major counts - 1) The story itself took 1 1/2 hours to tell something that should have taken no more than 15 minutes. Ultimately the entire film’s content would have worked better as a build-up back story for a better written feature film with more going on. And 2) It was cheaply filmed with that “shot on videotape” look, reminiscent of old bad British TV shows. Think “Cops,” without the glitz. The acting was workable, and the story itself would have made a fine beginning, but not complete film, but the problems of the film (including some really bad CGI thrown in) overshadowed anything worthwhile.

A brilliantly created Chinese film that encompassed so many genres, styles, and such, that it is almost impossible to classify. Shades of Clint Eastwood of the past, along with 1940s film noir gangsters, and the comedic dalliances of Laurel and Hardy to the Three Stooges or Marx Brothers. Best described as a comedic “Chow Mein Western Gangster Film.” Many funny lines, dialogue, and slapstick action as bandits are good guys and bad guys while trying to take out the mob figure who runs the village of Goose Town. And how seriously can we take things with “tough guy” character names such as “Bunny,” “Puppy,” or “Old Soup.” There are too many great scenes and lines to recall in a single sitting. Comedy, confusion, slapstick, and lots and lots of action. My recommendation is to find this film in theaters, or get in on DVD whenever you can and see it repeatedly. This one is awesome, and was a great offering from Cinequest. Oh yes, and having Chow Yun-Fat starring added a nice touch.

Written by Philip Anderson / Keith Denison / Louise Fill / Perlito Godoy

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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