By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Fix. Aspiring documentarian Milo (director Tao Ruspoli) and his girlfriend Bella (Olivia Wilde) have to put prior plans aside when Milo’s junkie brother Leo (Dazed and Confused’s Shawn Andrews) gets arrested again, and has to be driven to rehab by 8 p.m. with a $5,000 admittance fee or be sent to prison. Andrews is masterful as Leo, the perfect mix of endearing, flaky, and ever-so-subtle guilt-tripping. Points off, though, for excessive self-reflexivity—it adds nothing to the story to have it be Milo’s “actual” footage, save for way too many “Why are you filming this?” moments.
Heather Henson Presents Handmade Puppet Dreams. Always a highlight of the festival, Henson’s collection of the best puppet shorts from around the world is again divided into one selection for kids and one for adults, though the “adult” program is thankfully less about scatological humor and more about existential angst. Not every short was available for preview, but Genevieve Anderson’s “Too Loud A Solitude,” based on an Eastern European novel about a book-burner, features a voice-over performance by Paul Giamatti that may be the best work he’s ever done.
The Last Lullaby. A hitman (Tom Sizemore) falls in love with the woman he’s supposed to assassinate. A bare-bones and timeworn premise, perhaps, but director Jeffrey Goodman gives it just the right amount of style, and Sizemore is better than he’s been in years. Based on a short story by Max Allan Collins (Road to Perdition).
Man of Two Havanas. Vivien Lesnik Weisman is the daughter of Max Lesnik, a left-wing Cuban activist in Miami who advocates for an end to the U.S. embargo while simultaneously condemning communism. During the course of making this documentary about him, Vivien—who had planned to stay apolitical—tries to clarify the issue for casual audiences and ends up crystallizing her own feelings. An excellent primer on the subject.
Mardik: Baghdad to Hollywood. Bet you didn’t know the screenwriter of Raging Bull was from Iraq! Now a teacher at USC, Mardik Martin proves to be every bit as engaging a storyteller as pal Martin Scorsese, and even casual fans of the two will enjoy the rare footage and humorous anecdotes on display. There are some poorly drawn animated bits (obligatory in documentaries these days—thank you Michael Moore), but they don’t kill the fun.
Obscene. With a title like that, and a lineup of talking heads that includes Gore Vidal, John Waters and Al Goldstein, you might expect a tediously obvious defense of pornography. Not so: This is a fascinating documentary about Barney Rosset, publisher of Grove Press and the Evergreen Review, who distributed such works as Tropic of Cancer, Waiting for Godot and The Autobiography of Malcolm X, fighting for them every step of the way. Archival film footage of Rosset at nearly every stage of his life also makes for a riveting time capsule.
Son of Rambow. Last year’s fest-closer makes a repeat engagement due to popular acclaim. During the ‘80s, two English boys—one the sheltered child of religious cultists, the other a rambunctious latchkey bully—bond over their shared love of First Blood, and decide to film a Rambo sequel in their spare time. Some of the dialogue is overly cinema-savvy for naive kids (“We’re losing light!”), but Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy director Garth Jennings gives the proceedings a charmingly surreal and imaginative tone.
Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story. Gone are the days when you could rig a movie theater’s seats with electric buzzers to simulate a monster attack, or have an inflatable skeleton fly over the audience’s head, but you can relive them via this exuberant tribute to filmmaker and showman William Castle (The House on Haunted Hill). Best known for his promotional gimmicks, he’s rarely given his due as the producer of Rosemary’s Baby.
305. A mockumentary-style faux-sequel to 300, this low-budget comedy by Daniel and David Holechek tells the story of the five Spartans who ran away from the battle of Thermopylae, instead of defending the goat path that became Xerxes’ key to victory. Starring the Costa Mesa comedy troupe Market Fresh Produce.
The Tracey Fragments. Based on a series of monologues by Maureen Medved that later became a novel, Bruce McDonald’s amazing head-trip of a movie explores the mind of Tracey Berkowitz (Ellen Page), as she tries to piece together the events leading up to the traumatic loss of her brother, even as her mind tries to disassociate itself in a free-flowing array of multiple cinematic panels and floating boxes. Likely to overwhelm and annoy viewers hoping for Juno Part II, it is nonetheless an audacious and imaginative work that’s sure to remain one of the year’s best.
NOT TOO BAD Always: Sunset on Third Street 2
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.