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MoviesScreen GrabsScreen Grabs: A bounty of international film fests

Screen Grabs: A bounty of international film fests

Filipino, Greek, United Nations, and SF Shorts fests highlight world cinema. Plus: Parasite, The Lighthouse, The King, more.

Mill Valley may be over, but the fall cavalcade of local film festivals continues. This week alone brings at least four (that we know of). The 16th SF Greek Film Fest opens this Sunday at the Castro with documentary Olympia, about the Oscar-winning actress—surname Dukakis, if you haven’t guessed (read our interview here)—also familiar to SF audiences for her numerous appearances at American Conservatory Theatre, not to mention as Anna Madrigal on Tales of the City. The rest of the program’s nightly features and shorts play through Sun/27 at Delancey Street Screening Room, with an official closing night selection the prior evening at Dolby Cinema of Mario Piperides’ seriocomedy Smuggling Hendrix, which has a timely theme involving Turkey’s international relations (with Greece, in this case). For full schedule and ticket info, go to www.grfilm.com.

Meanwhile the Roxie is hosting the FACINE: 26th Annual Filipino International Cine Festival, whose three-day event (Fri/18-Sun/20) encompasses a diverse range of recent screen work from the Philippines, including social-issue drama (Jino to Mari), dystopian sci-fi (Alimuom), suspense (A Short History of a Few Bad Things), romance (Kung Paano Siya Nawala), documentary (Dapol Tan Payawar na Tayung, 1931) and more. More info here.

If those two festivities are too geographically specific to you, there’s always the United Nations Association Film Festival, which spans the globe to offer the best in recent documentary cinema on social justice, environmental and political issues. It runs Thurs/17 through Sun/27 at various Palo Alto locations (more info here.). Closer to home, there’s SF Shorts, a three-day festival of shorts from twenty-three countries and in all genres, from animation to comedy to nonfiction. Its six programs are at the Roxie (Thurs/17-Fri/18) and Counterpulse Theater (Sat/19), more info here.

Among commercial openings, several were unavailable for review by deadline. Among them: Zombieland: Double Tap, the gore-comedy sequel that re-teams Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin (plus, yes, Bill Murray as Bill Murray again) a decade after their first outing;  Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, the Disney live-action fairy tale sequel that begs the question “Is Angelina Jolie too popularly disliked now to play anything but beautiful villainesses?; and Mountaintop (playing just Tues/22 at Opera Plaza), a new Neil Young-directed documentary about the making of his first album with longtime occasional collaborating band Crazy Horse in seven years.

We admit to not viewing Where’s My Roy Cohn?, not because it wasn’t available for preview, but because after numerous prior exposures to that guy (including several versions of Angels in America), we couldn’t quite stomach another gander at possibly the most loathsome lawyer ever. (Admittedly, Giuliani is providing some serious competition these days.) But if you want to be horrified anew by the career of the late Joe McCarthy flunky turned mentor to little Donny Trump—shaping much of the latter’s ethics-free approach to life, wealth and power—Matt Tynauer’s documentary (opening at the Clay and Shattuck) is sure to deliver the queasy goods.

Elsewhere (all opening Fri/18 unless otherwise noted):

That once-or-twice-a-year movie likely to unite genre fans, arthouse buffs, critics and (hopefully) mainstream audiences, this latest from South Korean writer-director Joon-ho Bong (The Host, Snowpiercer) is a considerable recovery after the—to me, at least—semi-stumble of his cute-critter eco-fable Okja.

When a better-advantaged friend leaves for a study-abroad year, he gifts Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) his enviable side gig as English tutor to the teenage daughter of a wealthy family. With help from his graphics-whiz sister Ki-Jung (Park So-dam), Ki-woo—who has repeatedly failed exams that might qualify him for scholarships he’d need to attend college—falsifies impressive credentials and duly gets the job. He so impresses the Parks that he’s able to get Ki-Jung hired (on an equally fanciful resume) as a bratty younger child’s art teacher/therapist. Finding the Parks incredibly generous as well as gullible, the sibs then set about getting rid of their chauffeur and housekeeper, so their own mom (Chang Hyae-jin) and dad (Song Kang-ho) can also climb aboard the gravy train.

This clever black comedy of savvy poor folk hoodwinking rich folk too blinded by their own naval-gazing dysfunctionality to notice initially plays like a bright spin on the classic “usurper” narrative, only here it’s an entire family rather than a psychotic nanny or boyfriend who infiltrates the vulnerable upper-class nuclear unit. But while I’m not going to spoil anything (and you are advised not to read any review that does), let’s just say that Parasite has some major surprises up its sleeve—ones that yank the story in a wholly unexpected new direction at about the two-thirds point.

Precisely controlled and drolly ironic in tone even as its events grow more and more berserk, Parasite is always entertaining, foremost. But it also turns out to be a quite penetrating metaphor not just for Korea’s complex sociopolitical situation (encompassing both South and North), but for the escalating global gap between have’s and have-nots, which points towards an eventual chaos and violence that this movie duly arrives at in just over two hours. At area theaters.

The Lighthouse
The directors of the two of the most acclaimed sleeper-hit indie horror movies in recent years both released their second features this year, and you can’t accuse either of selling out—though you might wish they had, just a bit. A couple months back, Hereditary’s Ari Aster unleashed Midsommar, which required 2 1/2 hours and way more interpretive dancing to rethink The Wicker Man. Now it’s the turn of Robert Eggars, of 2015’s The Witch. His new The Lighthouse is only two hours long, but feels longer. Where his prior film used very simple means to create almost unbearable suspense, this one (also a period piece) never quite develops much tension, and the story gradually falls apart rather than coming to a head.

Willem Dafoe plays a veteran lighthouse keeper and Robert Pattison his new assistant on a remote New England island outpost in the late 19th century. The former tends to lord it over his inexperienced young charge, insisting he do all the hard labor, while barring him entry from the top of the lighthouse. Does something secret happen (or something otherworldly live) up there? Are mermaids real? Are one or both of our protagonists insane? Is one driving the other mad?

Don’t expect clear answers to those questions in this cryptic narrative, which can’t help but compel interest at first. The two committed lead performances both start out withdrawn, largely silent, then gradually go impressively over-the-top in different ways. The B&W photography by Jarin Blaschke, with its extremely narrow aspect ratio, is arresting, as is Mark Korven’s original score. But The Lighthouse takes so long getting somewhere, and that destination is so murky, that you may well have stopped caring well before getting there. Ultimately it’s an effective stylistic exercise whose psychological and narrative content would have been at least as well-served by a 20-minute short. At area theaters.

The King
Pattison is also in this very different period drama by Australian director David Michod (Animal Kingdom, War Machine) about Henry V. But he doesn’t play Prince Hal–interesting as that casting might have been—which role goes instead to Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name, Beautiful Boy), an actor I’m still on the fence about.

This isn’t Shakespeare, exactly, though it interpolates material from all the relevant plays. It’s a handsome if sometimes plodding chronicle of the military prince from his days as the disfavored elder son of dying Henry IV (Ben Mendelsohn) through his succession, continuance of armed conflict with France (Pattinson plays the Dauphin as a sneering fuckwit) and on to eventual stabilization of his rule and England itself. Joel Edgerton is possibly the least humorous Falstaff on record. Others in the cast include Sean Harris, Lily-Rose Depp and Tara Fitzgerald.

There are some vivid details here (such as a portrayal of war waged by giant catapults), and the climactic Battle of Agincourt goes on for so long you really do get a sense of how exhausting combat must have been when it was largely hand-to-hand. The King is to be applauded as a rare expansive historical piece these days that is neither fancy-dress fluff nor brainless warrior action fantasy. But if it’s never less than respectable, it’s also never terribly compelling. And while he’s been effective in troubled-juvenile roles, Chalamet doesn’t as yet have the fire or authority to carry this epic, let alone to convince as the battle-hardened leader of an entire 15th-century nation. Opera Plaza, SF. More info here

The Sweet Requiem
Dramatizing a little-noticed side of Tibet’s political plight under the heel of mainland China, this drama by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam (Dreaming Lhasa) is set largely in a refugee community just over the border in India. Dolkar (Tenzin Dolker), who fled her homeland as a child, is now an adult whose involvement with expat activism crosses her path with a man (Jampa Kalsang) she recognizes as the guide who led her party’s disastrous trek across the Himalayas two decades earlier. His presence rouses old hostilities and new suspicions. But she soon learns that this dispirited man is himself being hounded by Chinese government spies.

The latter element—which deploys threats to exiles’ remaining family back home to blackmail refugees—is a seldom-noted aspect to suppression of pro-Tibetan independence proponents. With flashbacks shot at snowbound heights of 15,000 feet, The Sweet Requiem combines harrowing adventure with the intrigue of present-day borders-crossing espionage and harassment. Opera Plaza, Shattuck Cinemas. More info here

A Night to Dismember: The Original Cut
Doris Wishman carved out a threadbare career on the bottom rungs of the 1960s grindhouse circuit, making “nudie cuties” notable for their command of a cinematic vocabulary so rudimentary it was almost abstract. (She would fill out scenes with random shots of ashtrays, wallpaper, and so forth.) Some were delightful (like sci-fi volleyball extravaganza Nude on the Moon), some memorably bizarre (like the early 70s duo she shot starring stuporous stripper Chesty Morgan, whose breasts were so large they constituted a form of cruel and unusual punishment), others just kinda torturous. The arrival of hardcore porn chased her out of the business by the end of the Me Decade.

Thus this 1989 “comeback” followed one twelve-year layoff from filmmaking, and preceded another, after which her rediscovery by shlock cinema fans led to three somewhat deliberately campy final features. (She died at age 90 in 2002, with two of them still in the can.) But in fact it had largely been shot much earlier, getting shelved after a vengeful lab technician destroyed most of the footage—or so Wishman claimed. Eventually porn star Samantha Fox offered a chunk of money for the director to further her “legitimate” career with a central role. Ergo much new material was filmed in order to insert Fox’s new heroine into whatever remained from the initial shoot, making an already messy project that much more so.

The recent rediscovery of this longer “original cut” restores at least some coherency—don’t worry, not too much—to a beleaguered film. A pregnant young woman named Mary Kent (Diane Cummins) is responsible for the bloody deaths of everyone who pisses her off, which soon encompasses nearly everyone she knows—a pattern repeated once her orphaned child “Crazy Vicki” (Fox) comes of age. Awkwardly glued together by Michael Egan’s Criswell-type narrator, with lots of amateurish gore, it’s an attempted slasher cash-in so klutzy it’s kinda perversely fascinating. Which combination makes it very much a Doris Wishman joint. Sun/20, Alamo Drafthouse. More info here

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