Sunday, October 4, 2009

2009 Mill Valley Film Festival Preview

The Mill Valley Film Festival runs from October 8 to 18. I haven't decided if I am going to go. It's a bit inconvenient for me to drive up to Marin County. There are several films that I would like to see.

Red Cliff (2009) - Acclaimed action director John Woo delivers a jaw-dropping epic based upon a legendary historical battle at the end of the Han Dynasty. In his quest to control all China, ruthless Prime Minister Cao Cao declares war on two neighboring kingdoms, whose only hope for survival lies in their ability to ally as a single force. Cao Cao pursues these renegade leaders and their cadre of loyal men to a showdown at Red Cliff, stronghold of the tranquil Southlands. The severely outnumbered allies must rely upon deft strategic planning to survive, employing ingenious battle tactics that make the Trojan horse look like child's play. Full of arresting combat sequences and Woo's famously fluid fight choreography, as well as penetrating performances by mega-watt stars Tony Leung, Chiu Wai and Takeshi Kaneshiro, Red Cliff is an unforgettable big screen experience.

Dark and Stormy Night (2009) - Who is murdering the houseguests of the Cavinder Estate? What secrets lie hidden in the passageways of the dark old house? Did someone lose a gorilla? Mysteries abound in this hilarious homage to 1930s "dark house" horror flicks. Written and directed by cult movie maestro Larry Blamire (The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, MVFF 2001, The Lost Skeleton Returns Again, MVFF 2008), the film follows the overnight exploits of a group of oddballs attempting to stay alive after a reading of the cursed Cavinder Will. Characters include a pair of fast-talking reporters, a whacked-out psychic, the loyal butler ("Jeens"), an antsy ingénue and one poorly cloaked phantom. Recalling the screwball comedies of Howard Hawks and the frantic antics of the Marx Brothers, this giddy love letter to the movies of yesteryear—captured in gorgeous black-and-white—will leave you grinning well past the witching hour.

Hellsinki (2009) - Elegantly produced and featuring exceptional performances by Finland's top film talent, Hellsinki tracks the rise and fall of three enterprising young criminals in Helsinki's vice-laden Rööperi neighborhood of the 1960s and 70s. Tom, an ambitious thug from the neighborhood, figures there's no future in rolling drunks and selling illegal booze on the street. Convincing his pals, wily Krisu and oafish Kari, to join him, Tom launches his hostile takeover of the city's black market alcohol trade. Now successful, each faces greater threats from within: the painful legacy of absent fathers, the children they themselves have abandoned and a yearning for normal domestic life. As a younger, more ruthless generation of criminals appears on the scene, and with all the old-school honor codes broken, what remains of "the life"? With a healthy dose of black Nordic humor, Hellsinki is a must-see for fans of stylish and psychologically rich gangster films. North American Premiere. The titled is apparently intentionally misspelled. The Finnish title is Rööperi.

Happy Tears (2009) - Dad may have Alzheimer's, but he's not the only one whose mind and life seem to be slipping out of reach. Sisterly opposites Jayne (Parker Posey) and Laura (Demi Moore) return to their childhood home in Pittsburgh to somehow and reluctantly manage their widowed, increasingly weird and terminally ill father. Mitchell Lichtenstein's second feature (follow-up to 2007's horror spoof Teeth) explores after its own fashion, but with equal frankness, themes broached in Tamara Jenkins' The Savages (MVFF 2007): Just what do we owe the imperfect ones to whom we are family? Musing all the while, with raucously sardonic but ultimately affirming humor, on the legacies of fathers living and gone, Happy Tears takes supreme advantage of a powerhouse cast—not least the excellent Rip Torn, who as the sisters' deteriorating dad mingles wry raunch with a gently stirring frailty; and Ellen Barkin in a brave, not to say bizarre turn as a frighteningly feral, slyly endearing crack-head gold-digger.

Jim Thorpe, The World's Greatest Athlete (2009) - He may not have been as fast as a speeding bullet or able to leap tall buildings, but Jim Thorpe came real close. Considered the finest athlete of the 20th century, he was a US Olympic multiple gold medal winner as well as a star of professional football and baseball. But Jim Thorpe was also an American Indian. At the peak of his fame, Jim was still legally considered a "ward of the state" and not a citizen. Tom Weidlinger's superb documentary—using old recordings, re-enactments, newsreels and animated photos—brings Thorpe's career alive with a warmth for its subject that shines as bright as Jim's crooked smile. In this life story, too, is a tale of American racism and how one man overcame prejudice through sheer strength of personality. Weidlinger's film re-acquaints us with Jim Thorpe, and lets us fall in love with the story and the man.

The Red Machine (2009) - Washington, DC, 1935: At the height of the Great Depression, hotheaded Eddie Doyle (Donal Thoms-Cappello), an ace safecracker, is just doing what he does best: stealing. Now facing prison, Eddie finds he's got an option after all. Enter Lt. F. Ellis Coburn (Lee Perkins), a cool-as-ice Navy man with a problem only Eddie can solve. The Japanese Foreign Office has changed its encryption codes, and the government isn't too happy. A prominent Japanese diplomat holds the key to his country's secrets in the form of a mysterious red machine. As Eddie and Coburn work together to pull off the heist of a lifetime, they find more to the job than they bargained for as things get personal. Full of crackling dialogue, eye-catching visuals and unpredictable twists, co-directors Stephanie Argy's (Gandhi at the Bat, MVFF 2006)and Alec Boehm's The Red Machine is a charming throwback to the great espionage capers of the 1930s.

Tenderloin (2009) - Anyone who has walked the streets of San Francisco's Tenderloin District has seen the seedy side of the city. It's a place that isn't on a first name basis with hope. When Ben takes a job as manager of a residential hotel there, he can't deny he's hit bottom. An Iraqi war veteran trying to keep his repressed anger under control, Ben just wants to hide. The last thing he expects to find is a home. But before he knows it, he's drawn into the lives of those around him, finding friendship in the faces of strangers. As he moves forward and tries to reconnect with his estranged young son, Ben learns that, wherever you live, choices are hard. Trying is one thing, believing another. Gritty and authentic, Marin director Michael Anderson's Tenderloin brims with eccentric characters that give a heartfelt and familiar face to a lonely and desperate world.

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