By Gustavo Arellano
By Aimee Murillo
By Matt Coker
By Vickie Chang
By Matt Coker
By LP Hastings
By Michael Goldstein
By R. Scott Moxley
NOT TOO BAD
Always: Sunset on Third Street 2. A follow-up to last year’s festival hit, focusing on the people who live on a small street in the shadow of Tokyo Tower in 1959. The main characters are an aspiring writer who adopts a gifted child, and a family of mechanics who take care of a spoiled bratty girl when her father’s business fails and he has to find work elsewhere. Agreeable enough, but has more overly sentimental false endings than Return of the King.
Disappearing in America. An IRA bomber (David Polcyn) flees Belfast for a safe house in San Francisco, where he is forcibly debriefed and stripped of his identity, a situation that becomes increasingly intolerable. A textbook example of how to tell a story on a tiny budget, hampered by some occasional plot missteps.
Eastern State: Living Behind the Walls. Sounds like a Communist story, but in fact it’s a documentary about Philadelphia’s most notorious prison (now defunct), founded by Quakers who thought solitary confinement would be good for the soul, only to find that instead it drove many inmates crazy. Learn lots of strange trivia about prisons in general, and this one in particular.
Elvis and Anabelle. Normally it’s a good idea to stay away from any movie with “Elvis” in the title, but this unlikely love story between a brooding mortician’s son (Max Minghella) and a runaway beauty pageant winner (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants’ Blake Lively) is worth a look, especially for Joe Mantegna playing waaaay against type as a lisping, mentally challenged, Texas-accented hunchback.
Em4Jay. Em (Laura Gordon) and Jay (Nick Barkla) are young, beautiful, madly in love, and serious drug addicts. See them fuck, and then fuck up their lives further and further. Both leads are definitely easy on the eyes, but their descent into tragedy is too inevitable to generate much narrative tension, or empathy.
Frost. A self-destructive, spoiled playboy in New York City with the unlikely name of Jack Frost (Jason Behr) falls for a reporter (Lucy Gordon) who’s doing a story on him. In other words, it’s kind of like Van Wilder with fewer laughs and a really horrible soundtrack. Behr’s performance keeps things watchable, though.
Fugitive Pieces. A history teacher (Stephen Dillane) is haunted by his memories of escaping Nazi Germany as a child, and particularly by visions of his sister, whose final fate remains unknown. Rade Sherbedgia plays the father figure who helped him escape and raised him in Greece before moving to Canada. If you haven’t had enough of Holocaust-related tales onscreen, this is a perfectly serviceable one, though some of the narration is uncalled for.
Garage. In rural Ireland, a simpleton named Josie (Pat Shortt) runs the day-to-day operations at a small gas station, and when the owner decides to expand the hours of operation, Josie must train a taciturn teen (Conor Ryan) to be his assistant. A wonderfully knowing portrait of the fading small-town lifestyle in the Emerald Isle, Garage doesn’t quite make the “must-see” list because of its ending, which feels like a gratuitous kick in the balls. Not to be confused with last year’s American small-town snorer The Garage.
Goodbye Baby. A beautiful high school graduate (Christine Evangelista, who looks like Katie Holmes’ younger, cuter sister) heads for the big city, where she moves in with her gay brother, tries to become a standup comic, and falls for an ex-junkie when she attends an AA meeting to overcome her fear of public speaking. Enjoyable, but plotless enough that writer-director Daniel Schechter has to contrive a tragedy or two to force an ending.
The Good Life. An awkward, hairless Nebraska teen (Mark Webber) hooks up with one of those only-in-the-movies, free-spirited beautiful girls who instantly fall for defensive introverts. And she’s played by Zooey Deschanel, who’s swiftly making a habit of such roles. As a director, Stephen Berra makes this all quite palatable, but as a writer, he frequently mistakes platitudes for profundity. The strong supporting cast includes Chris Klein, Bill Paxton, Harry Dean Stanton, Drea DeMatteo, Patrick Fugit and Donal Logue.
Google Me. Filmmaker Jim Killeen did an online search of his own name, and set out to meet and interview every other Jim Killeen he could find. He doesn’t exactly learn the meaning of life in the process, but thankfully every Jim Killeen turns out to be an entertaining character . . . save, perhaps, the filmmaker himself, whose story takes an odd tonal detour when he starts getting into his own family’s psychiatric problems, which belong in a different film.
Hollywood Singing and Dancing. This movie is for you, Mr. Musical Hater. You’d rather stick needles under your fingernails than watch The Sound of Music, and think Chicago’s totally gay. But after you watch this collection of highlights spanning the entire history of musical cinema from Busby Berkeley to Bill Condon, you will respect the form, if you have any love of film whatsoever. Except maybe for Chicago—it still seems pretty gay.
Lie to Me. A couple with an open relationship (Steve Sandvoss and Courtney Ford) run into trouble when she hooks up with a super ex-boyfriend (recent Man of Steel Brandon Routh), and he deflowers the barely legal sister (Shoshana Bush) of his literary agent (Nick Wechsler). It’s like an Edward Burns-directed romantic dramedy without the actual presence of Burns . . . a definite improvement.
Mister Foe. After the apparent suicide of his mother, Hallam Foe (Jamie Bell) flees his family’s country estate to Edinburgh and starts spying on a young woman (Sophia Myles) who looks remarkably like mom. Presented as a sort of romantic neo-fairy-tale, the movie rarely acknowledges the inherent creepiness of its premise.
Night. If R.E.M.’s “Nightswimming” were a movie, this would be it. Lawrence Johnston’s documentary offers up stunning images of Australia at night, while various ordinary people expound upon what night means to them, and an orchestral score swells. A brief detour into 9/11 and terrorism is weirdly incongruous, but overall, this is a real beauty to watch, though potentially fidget-inducing.
The Project. In this inner-city drama, a team of documentary filmmakers attempt to chronicle the life of an at-risk black kid on one hand, and a local police officer on the other. What they don’t realize is the manner in which the two are connected, and the way that connection will send everything into a dark downward spiral. Think of it as The Blair Projects Project.
Radio Corazon. An anthology of three stories of sexual indiscretion, based on actual phone calls to a popular Chilean radio station. A teenager blackmails her stepdad into taking her virginity, a mother falls for her son’s bride-to-be, and a terminally ill woman pressures her servant into sleeping with her husband. Fun stuff, but not nearly as steamy as it needs to be.
Red Like the Sky. Biopic of acclaimed Italian sound editor Mirco Mencacci (inexplicably renamed Mirco Balleri here), who, as a child in the ‘70s, was accidentally blinded while handling his father’s gun. As per Italian law at that time, he was removed from the public schools to attend a religiously run boarding institute for blind children, and it was here that he apparently learned—in spite of his strict headmaster—to create soundscapes. So terminally heartwarming, you might want to pop an extra Zantac.
Take. A grieving mother (Minnie Driver) goes on a journey to confront the man (Jeremy Renner), now on death row, who has caused her so much pain. Writer-director Charles Oliver has made a striking debut that’s almost perfectly cast. Unfortunately, the kid (Martian Child’s Bobby Coleman) is so annoying that it’s hard to get worked up over his loss.
Time Crimes. In one of the best movie opening sequences in recent memory, a peeping Tom (Karra Elejalde) tries to get a closer look at a naked woman in the woods, only to be stabbed in the arm by a man with a bandaged face. Fleeing to a nearby silo, he accidentally ends up in a time machine that sends him an hour into the past. The rest, unfortunately, is a bit more predictable.
To Touch the Soul. Documentary in which a group of students from Cal State Long Beach travel to Cambodia to teach HIV-positive children how to paint. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that the students bonded with the kids, and that conditions over there are harsh. Well done for what it is, but better suited to the small screen.
Trying to Get Good: The Jazz Odyssey of Jack Sheldon. Most people probably know Jack Sheldon best as the voice of Schoolhouse Rock’s “Bill on Capitol Hill,” but he had a long and storied career before that. Directed by talk-radio host Doug McIntyre and his wife Penny Peyser, this documentary has the feel of an all-star call-in show, with the likes of Merv Griffin, Clint Eastwood, Billy Crystal and more all offering anecdotes and opinions. A must-see for jazz fans.
Under the Sun. Mostly set around the Gold Coast of Australia, this surfing documentary focuses on the divide between competitive surfers and more Zen-like hobbyists. The filmmakers, however, seem more affiliated with the latter, as they use different film stocks, filters, speeds, and forms of animation to create an almost-non-narrative cinematic trance. Damned if I can remember any of the interviews, but it sure is pretty.
What We Do Is Secret. Shane West stars as Germs lead singer Darby Crash in this energetic biopic that mostly rocks, up until a poorly sketched-out ending that does little to clarify Darby’s demise. West nails the emotional tone of raw ambition mixed with crushing depression, though, and the music is great.
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