Archive for March, 2011

2010

Cinequest 21 San Jose Film Festival
Czech Republic
Czech / Russian
110 Minutes
Drama / Family
Allice Nellis [Little Girl Blue]

MAMAS & PAPAS is about the strange lottery aspect of human fertility. While some couples try all means of medical intervention, other couples seem to be able to become pregnant simply by glancing at each other. One couple has been trying for three years and the wife is desperate. One couple is arguing over whether their relationship is strong enough to include a child or if it should be aborted. A third couple is pregnant with their third child, but money and space is tight, and didn’t she just hear the story of a woman who legally made some money by handing over her newborn to a desperate, wealthy couple? All of these stories are sort of tied together by the fertility specialist, who has her own family sadness.

There are a few things that raise this film above the typical “baby fever” type of movies we’re all used to.

–>It’s in Czech, which instantly makes it more important. Not really, but the universality of the human experience is something we get while reading subtitles.

–>The not being sure if you want a baby that appears to be the answer to prayers is shown well.

–>As I have some experience with this whole “fertility thing”, I was happy to see an agreeable husband finally explode over being treated like a “stud bull”. Once you get deep into fertility science, all the fun of “reproduction” takes a back seat to shots and timing and specimen jars.

–>As I have some experience with the whole “adoption” thing, I was touched by scenes involving all of the tests (mental, psychological, economic) that one couple had to go through. Also, the other side of the equation (the actual birth mother) was shown with care.

The acting was uniformly good. There are some mis-steps involving scuba diving and whales, believe it or not, and the “find yourself” part of the doctor’s story never took hold of me. But the genetic lottery of who gets pregnant when, by whom, and under what circumstances did take hold of me.

MAMAS & PAPAS

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NOSFERATU, EINE SYMPHONIE DES GRAUENS
1922

Cinequest 21 San Jose Film Festival
Germany
Silent — Wurlitzer Organ Accompaniment by Dennis James
Fantasy / Horror / Mystery / Romance
F. W. Murnau [Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans]

Film Number 103 Of All Time — They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000

OK, so it was made in 1922. It’s famous for being the first of the many vampire films. It’s campy and corny and silent. But was it fun to watch?

Absolutely. I was mostly worried about dozing off as it was my fourth film of the busy day. But seeing something that my great-grandparents might have seen, in a theater that my grandparents might have gone to as children, surrounded by a balcony full of fans ranging in age from about 8 to about 90, meant that it was an experience I’ll cherish forever.

Dennis James got sounds out of the mighty Wurlitzer that seemed to required five people to perform. He kept the pace and made us scared and happy and when a drummer appeared on screen, I’ll be damned if a snare drum didn’t sound from the right speaker in perfect syncopation. If you’ve never heard live accompaniment to a silent film before, get your ass out of your house and go to one. Even if you don’t like the film. It’ll be worth it.

The story was overacted and the special effects rudimentary, but again, it was filmed just after World War I, for god’s sake. Women and men alike seem to swoon, the bad guys are extra bad, the wacko mental patients extra mentally.

But I found it touched me–the darkness, the lust, the way the Count looked upon a drop of blood while licking his lips.

And my, oh my, to experience all of this in a double-decker full house like the California Theater. The title cards causing snickers and oohs and aahs. The “wow” factor of the Count levitating. The creepiness of a long boat ride. People were enthralled. I was one of them.

And I didn’t doze once.

8.1 IMDB

NOSFERATU

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LE SENTIMENT DE LA CHAIR
2010

March 4, 2011
Cinequest 21
France
French
91 Minutes
Drama / Romance
Roberto Garzelli

Benoit = Thibault Vincon
Helena = Annabelle Hettmann

Sure, it was late, and I had been up since 5:30. And I had worked a full day. And it was my third film of the day. But holy cow, what the hell was this one all about? Helena is getting her degree in Anatomical Drawing (they didn’t offer that at UC Irvine when I was there). She observes surgeries and medical students dissecting cadavers with her sketch pad always at the ready. She believes in the beauty of the outside of people–birthmarks, scars, curves, and whatnot. She can apparently mount a successful breast examination in the shower.

Sent to the doctor because of some back pain, she somehow notices that the sexy practitioner has taken an x-ray of her, but not lower back where she’s feeling the pain. Confronted, he at first makes excuses, but then admits that he’s fascinated by a slight abnormality in her anatomy. You see, he is turned on (in the sexual and non-sexual sense) by human anatomy that differs from the norm. I’ve forgotten what her difference is, but she is not angry about a second, unnecessary x-ray, but rather turned on by his semi-professional attention.

They make a date. And have sex all over the place. Often. She memorizes his moles, he can picture her internal organs. It’s a match made in “Gray’s Anatomy.” She entices him with ever more medically intrusive procedures so that he can “know” her inside and out. MRI? Check. Surgical Scope? Check.

The ending had my audience tittering. At least those who stuck around for it. It isn’t a completely sucky movie, and I kinda get the whole “if you really loved me, you know everything about me and my body” vibe it’s going for. In fact, the feeling I got most from it was David Cronenberg’s CRASH (not to be confused with the Best Picture travesty by Paul Haggis). Where something medical and sexual combine in character’s heads. In CRASH, it was the excitement of a car crash and the disfigurement that brought. In this one, it’s how much you can expect your lover to know about your skeleton and internal organs.

I won’t say anything about the final shot, except that, though I understood the director’s reasoning, it was impossible to pull off.

March 12, 2011: Upon Further Review: I kept thinking of David Cronenberg while I was watching SENTIMENT OF THE FLESH, but now after a few days to ponder, I think I’m leaning more towards the style of Catherine Breillat. She typically takes the viewer on a wild ride that ratchets up the fetish and social acceptability until few are left at the end singing its praises. This can be rape or body fluid or murder. Some Breillat viewers only last five minutes, while others finish even the least accessible of her films, happy for the experience. SENTIMENT OF THE FLESH made a rather severe leap from realistic to plausible to way-out-there a bit too quickly, perhaps, but the themes were in line with Ms. Breillat’s work.

THE SENTIMENT OF THE FLESH.

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2011

March 4, 2011
USA
English
Cinequest 21 World Premiere
Drama / Romance
Conrad Jackson

Elliot Carson = Parker Croft
Chloe Webb = Emilia Zoryan

One of the best pleasant surprises I’ve had in my 14 years at Cinequest.

On paper, this film had every red flag imaginable. Terminal illness, Los Angeles hipsters, a house party, a meet-cute in a Jamba Juice, an internet entrepreneur, and two incredibly adorable young people who spend a single night together. And yet…

Elliot visits his doctor the day before he has brain surgery. The doctor assures him that he’s optimistic, but we can tell from Elliot’s eyes, that he has no such positive feelings. He wears sunglasses indoors as the light bothers him and on the way home from the doctor’s office, he needs to pull over his car in order to barf. Looking for a bathroom in which to clean himself up, he ends up at an ice cream / smoothie place staffed by an almost supernaturally adorable girl named Chloe. As he walks in, she’s taking photographs of the store’s merchandise. She kindly lets him use the bathroom, he orders an “anything with bananas in it” drink, and they make smalltalk. But realistic smalltalk. Awkward, silence-filled, customer-employee smalltalk. He picks up a card for her photo exhibit that night–”you should come”–and heads back to his sparsely furnished, though expensive looking apartment, where he enjoys a bowl of cereal after closing the shades.

Trying to get his mind off of the next morning’s procedure, he heads down to Chloe’s show, where they exchange names and more conversation. Which leads to dinner, which leads to a houseparty, bike ride, security guards, danger, a hike, some music, and all those other things that can make a first night with someone magical. But eventually, Elliot will have to tell Chloe why he hasn’t eaten or drank anything since midnight, won’t he? And what if she wants to plan something for that weekend?

There are several things to say here, in bullet-point format:

–the cinematographer and director find a way to perfectly capture the dizziness, migraine, and ear-ringing that accompany someone who is about to barf. I can’t recall ever feeling someone’s nausea quite so vividly. The sound quiets, the lights get brighter, and the speed sort of changes. Very well done.

–The young woman who plays Chloe, Emilia Zoryan, looks like an “almost” Minka Kelly from FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. She has these huge, soulful eyes that stare at Elliot, often when he isn’t looking. She is convincing as a normal, LA girl, who works in a store, but longs for great, artistic things.

–The young man is played by Parker Croft, who was one of the writers of the film. He looks like an even-thinner young Roger Daltrey, all angles, and bones, with a big mop of blonde hair on his head. He has this slow-blinking, surfer drawl dialogue delivery that somehow isn’t annoying. Because it sounds like a kid his age. And with his very thin frame and our knowledge of his condition, we can’t help but cheer for him as he tries to experience a memorable night on what might be his last.

–The two leads, while conversing–both initially meeting, and as the topics get deeper–sound perfect together. At the Q & A after the film, it was learned that the crew filmed this over a two week period of nights. And I know that Parker was one of the writers. But something more is happening here. I don’t know if they work-shopped the dialogue or were given a simple framework upon which to improvise around. The two 20ish actors are speaking like two 20ish people who are meeting someone they might end up eventually liking. The honest awkwardness of silences, of jokes that don’t land, of spilling food on a first date–all of it seems real. They don’t finish each others sentences and they mostly don’t have a rapid-fire HIS GIRL FRIDAY thing happening. It just seems more organic. Or else I was just fooled, which is good enough for me.

–The music worked, especially a “concert in a tunnel” where someone’s friend of a friend is performing on guitar and a tiny amp. The crowd looks happy, if a bit too hip and good-looking. The other songs didn’t hit us over the head. There was no “brain tumor theme” for example.

–A new romance causes us to completely lose track of time, and somehow that feeling was communicated in this film. Everything they do could plausibly have taken place during one night. But looking back on memories of perfect nights with perfect people, we never really relay that story perfectly, do we? Maybe the bike ride took four hours and maybe it was just around the block. The important thing was who you were with, not how long it really lasted.

–Capturing blossoming feelings is incredibly difficult on screen. You have to believe in the chemistry of the two people. They have to be realistically right for each other. There has to be something in each of them that would attract the other. All of these things work in this film. Though, due to Elliot’s condition, he needs to hold back his feelings more than Chloe does. I thought that she fell too hard for him too early. Plus, she’s adorable. Why doesn’t she already have something to do that night?

–Another entirely tiny positive thing that no one probably noticed but me. Both members of the couple sustain minor injuries during their night together. Hers is much less conspicuous. But I noticed that the continuity didn’t lapse when I saw her in a later scene. Attention to detail=A.

Lest it sound like it was perfect, let me slow down that impression now.

–The hipster, mostly white-people, young and funny, houseparty birthday “my friends are outrageous” stuff was almost a bit much for me. Almost. A sobbing birthday girl, a cynical bearded friend, a guy with one of those stupid knit hats with the ear flaps, a conversation about grilled cheese, a top-half-clothing-trade. If I wasn’t so invested in the couple’s beginning, I would have hated, hated, hated that group of people. They hike up an LA mountain, where a group of people has cold beer ready and a tree adorned with lights and a couch and deep and shallow conversations abound. I get that this is a real thing that happens, but that doesn’t mean it makes good cinema. When I was their age, my friends and I acted exactly like them. If you are between the ages of 16 and 30, you’ll even love these scenes.

–Both actors were pretty spectacular, especially when compared to their resumes. Parker was a bit stronger than Emilia, but her big eyes go a long way towards helping us forget that. Parker has a big scene that starts with spinning a globe that I never quite bought. I wanted to, but it was too long, too close-up, too monologue-ish. That was the only misstep I could find in his performance.

In conclusion, I’m almost embarrassed by how much I like FALLING OVERNIGHT. I’m a sucker for the falling in like part of cinema relationships (BEFORE SUNRISE remains the gold standard), but the LA location, the age of the participants, the extra “bonus” of a brain tumor, all told me to avoid this film. I’m glad I didn’t.

FALLING OVERNIGHT

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TUAN YUAN
2010

March 4, 2011
Cinequest 21
China
Mandarin
93 Minutes
Drama
Quan’an Wang

Qiao Yu’e = Lisa Lu
Liu Yangheng = Feng Ling
Lu Shanmin = Cai-gen Yu

Liu fled China for Taiwan 50 years ago during the Communist Revolution. He has come back to an unrecognizable Shanghai and would like to reconnect with his girlfriend from before the war and bring her back to Taiwan with him. Unfortunately for his plans, she leads a broad family of three generations, none of whom is exactly happy to see the man. Oh yeah, and she’s been happily married to “a good man” named Lu for more than 40 years.

The family is understandably upset with Liu’s plans. The sisters bicker, the businessman son-in-law wants to look at it like a business proposition, the oldest son, who is Liu’s biological child, wants to leave it up to his mother. It’s none of his business, he says.

The hip, cool, and bored 20ish granddaughter is put in charge of showing Liu the sights of Shanghai. The city becomes another character in the film. When Liu left, it surely wasn’t the economic powerhouse it is today.

Just about the only person who isn’t upset with Liu’s plan is Yu’e’s husband, Lu. He seems fine. In several hilarious scenes, he shows just how okay he is with his wife leaving him for another country. He refuses money and drinks a toast in honor of the man about to take his wife away.

There is a hilarious section where the couple get caught in a bureaucratic nightmare after being told they were never “officially” married all those decades ago. “What can we do?” “Go next door and get a marriage license and then bring it back here for the divorce.” The wrinkled couple poses for their first wedding portrait sandwiched between much younger newlyweds.

Lisa Lu, as the center of this love triangle, plays her role with quiet reserve. But her eyes tell us everything we need to know about her thoughts. She may have been playing the “what if” game for 50 years–since Liu left. Or perhaps she just wants a late-life change.

And why on earth is her husband Lu, being so peaceful about the whole thing?

One of the rare Asian offerings at this year’s Cinequest Film Festival.

APART TOGETHER

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Written by Michael W. Cummins