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Cinequest 2005:
The Film Magnet

Well, the 15th Annual San Jose International Film Festival (known to most as Cinequest) has gotten underway, and, after a few days of schmoozing, partying, and promoting our film The Chick Magnet — for which I wrote a brilliant, heartfelt script that Chris Garcia reduced to a collection of boob jokes (cuz boob jokes play well in the stix!)… well, we finally got around to WATCHING some films, getting you the scoop on this year’s indie film scene.

Following a tradition of premiering self-reflective stories, the fest opened with Brazillian comedy Manual for Love Stories. As the title suggests, the movie’s a manifesto on how to make a romantic film. More to the point, it’s a treatise on how to come up with the most standard, trite, stereotypical example of the genre possible. From beginning to end, an unseen narrator nudges the film back towards romance movie conventions whenever it veers into other territory.

Admittedly, this is all played for comedic effect, and there are some chuckles at the reality-bending antics, but this sucker’s dead on arrival. The cinematography, while competent, suffers under some of the worst staging since the silent era, smothering every scene in a theatricality that’ll cure even the most severe cases of insomnia.

While we can give it some lenience for being a Portugese language film made to appeal more to its native audience than an American one, there’s no ignoring the fact that A Manual for Love Stories would have been far more entertaining as a stage play or short film. As a comedy, it’s too desperate to be funny. As a romance, it’s a bad mockery of fairy tales. As a movie, its 84 minute runtime is completely unjustified. As an opening night film, it was a dismal failure.

Garcia already called dibs on the one science fiction film we’ve had the pleasure of seeing, but, since I’m a disloyal, lying bastard, I might as well give you a heads up on Able Edwards. Following in the footsteps of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, this low budget feature uses an entirely greenscreened setting (meaning all the backgrounds are fake) to take the audience into a spacebound futuristic story of identity and the human condition.

Or, to imprecisely sum up, it’s Citizen Kane meets A.I.. I’ll leave the details to my esteemed colleague, but, while this hasn’t been the greatest film at the fest, the ambition and adventurous storytelling at work are impressive examples of the strides digital effects have allowed indie filmmakers to take. It may also be a great example of the chaos that ensues when special effects and story have to vie for screentime. In any case, it’ll give hope to fledgling filmmakers and open new doors for low budget Sci Fi (Carnosaur 5 baby!)

Taking a break from modern films, our crew hobbled down to the recently renovated California Theater to check out a brand spanking new print of Harold Lloyd’s 1922 silent comedy Safety Last. Accompanied by a top notch Wurlitzer organ, the simple story of a boy trying to win the hand of the girl he loves by making it in the big city won the hearts of the entire audience and inspired peals of laughter and numerous rounds of applause.

Lloyd’s perfect sense of comic timing and staging of physical humor translates flawlessly into this century, and, thanks to what must have been a massive restoration effort, the film looked clean enough to have been shot yesterday. While Safety Last and the newly cut version of Movie Crazy easily inspired a whole new generation of Lloyd fans, the California Theater and it’s massive organ surely reawakened the spirit of silent cinema for everyone in attendance. Far from being a mere novelty, this new venue is sure to become one of the most beloved cinematic altars in the entire Bay Area.

As the weekend went on, we had our feelers out for the buzz, but very few recommendations were coming our way. For every bit of praise, there was another person offering heavy derision. For every packed house, there were numerous walkouts.

One of the few mentions we took note of was the Canadian The Love Crimes of Gillian Guess, based on the true story of a single mother from Vancouver who was selected for jury duty in a high profile murder trial— and then had an affair with the accused. But the director (well known in Canada, natch), chose to focus more on the innerworkings of Gillian’s mind than the actual details of the trial, and what results is a less balanced but still compelling narrative reminiscent of Mulholland Drive.

If the movie has a significant flaw, it’s that the first half goes far into absurd fantasy, but not far enough to make us search for meaning. The events that occur are shocking, offensive, repugnant, and caused many people to leave the theater, but too few hints were dropped and too “clever” visual tricks were played. For a long time, there was no hint of a sense of direction and our group was very close to ditching the film.

Then, with a good half hour left, the twist came and drove the movie in a completely different direction. What was once meaningless and crass now highlights the painful and endearing story. The viewer’s mind becomes completely engaged by the revelations of the last act, and, though it drags, the ending is quite satisfying.

But we have to be completely fair, here, and, despite ultimately coming together in the end, the first two acts are so scatterbrained, overbearing, and unsympathetic that just watching them is a chore. It pays off in the end, but most people would give up long before then. While the reward is certainly worth the journey, it’s unfortunately beyond the limits of the casual filmgoer.

That’s all for now, but we’ll be coming to you later with reviews of Villa Paranoia, Set Point, Trench Road, and a tribute to Sam Peckinpah.

Jason Schachat

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