Thursday, April 5, 2012

2012 Cinequest (Part 3)

Continuing my 2012 Cinequest summary...

Happy New Year, Grandma! was a Spanish (Basque language) black comedy about about an evil old lady who wreaks havoc on her progeny. Exaggeratedly diabolical, Montserrat Carulla shines as the grandmother whose shrieks of "Maritxu!!!" Joxean Bengoetxea plays her hapless grandson-in-law.

Grandma starts off innocently enough, ramps up to the point where Grandma is truly contemptible and kicks it into overdrive as Grandma becomes frighteningly evil. As a coda, the film ominously implies the cycle repeats. The laughs were more measured as the film progresses but I absolutely loved Happy New Year, Grandma! which may have been the first Basque language film I've ever seen.


The two Faust films were worthwhile as well.

Aleksandr Sokurov closes out his tetralogy on the corrupting influence of absolute power which previously included Moloch (Hitler), Taurus (Stalin) and The Sun (Hirohito). Unlike the other three films, Faust is not set in the 20th century and involves a fictitious character. Having only seen The Sun, I think Faust compares favorably.

Sokurov richly evokes, what I believe, is the 18th century (the specific time and location were not mentioned). Anton Adasinsky as the Moneylender (i.e. Satan) is spectacular if not blatantly anti-Semitic in his performance. We are familiar with the Faustian story so Sokurov layers on elaborate sets and lets Adasinsky's unctuous portrayal off the leash. Johannes Zeiler as Faust is more restrained but the chemistry between Adasinsky and Zeiler is tremendous.

Murnau's Faust didn't quite measure up to his greatest films - Nosferatu and Sunrise. A little too much attention was focused on special effects such that Murnau's Faust didn't invoke the same tragedy as Sokurov.

I didn't recognize Emil Jannings (The Blue Angel) as Mephisto under the face paint and horns. Gösta Ekman as Faust looked more like Moses. Faust is more selfless in the silent version of Faust and his fate seems predestined as his soul is wagered between God and the Devil.

Ultimately, Faust (1926) is too much a film of its period. Some of the silent films have aged well; while others look dated and old fashioned by comparison to today's films.


Among the foreign film, a pair of Norwegian comedies stood out.

King Curling is set in the world of elite national curlers and reminded of the best Farrelly Brother films. The greatest curler in Norway's history owes his success and downfall to his obsessive compulsive disorder. After being institutionalized, he tries to "get the band back together" to pay for his coach's surgery. The other three members of the team have gone on to other pursuits and always lurking is his chief rival. Linn Skåber as the harpy wife and Kare Conradi, who seems to be channeling John C. Reilly from Boogie Nights, as the archnemesis stand out among the cast.

Sons of Norway is a more absurdist comedy about a young boy who copes with his mother's death. He copes by joining a punk rock band; his father (Sven Nordin in a show-stealing performance) copes by joining a free-love, nudist colony.

A little uneven but ultimately an entertaining film, Sons of Norway seemed as though it was adapted from some best selling novel. The plot seemed ripe for an internal dialogue which is better suited to the written word. Alas, Sons of Norway was an original screenplay from Nikolaj Frobenius. I wonder how much of the film is autobiographical since the lead character is named Nikolaj and the film is set in the late 1970s when Forenius would have been the same age as the boy in Sons of Norway.


Children of the Golden Dragon was set in Hungary and shows that Chinese illegal aliens are everywhere. Yu Debin plays Wu, a Chinese immigrant in Hungary. He lives in a warehouse guarding cut rate Chinese imports. The warehouse is being sold by realtor Janos (Zoltán Rátóti). Janos is incented to flip the warehouse while Wu has been threatened if he does delay the sale. After initial wariness, the two men form a genuine friendship although they indirectly vie for the attention of pizza delivery girl Regina (Eszter Bánfalvy).

The film leisurely and comedically paces itself until the conclusion where final resoultion about the warehouse's fate and Regina's feelings are revealed. The film shifted towards more serious matters at the end but ultimately, Green Dragon was a feel-good comedy.


Heavy Girls is a ultra-low budget German film about a gay man who lives with his elderly father and is secretly attracted to her male nurse (who is married). Whimsical and containing an NC17 amount of full, frontal male nudity, Heavy Girls is like nothing I've seen before. Heiko Pinkowski as Sven, the dutiful but semi-closeted gay son masturbates to Ravel's Bolero while frolicing in the nude. The object his amorous attention is Daniel (Peter Trabner) who is more ambiguous about his sexuality but rigid in his desire to remain married for the sake of his son. An extended scene at the end is half naked man macho posturing and half seduction.

Heavy Girls is kind of clumsy at time (like Sven's character) but surprisingly effective. I can't quite say I liked it, I definitely cannot say I disliked it but I salute the Maverick spirit of Cinequest for programming such an unusual film.


A familiar film was Love, Wrinke Free, an English language film set in Goa, India. The film's tagline was "an anti-ageing comedy." I didn't think that was the primary sentiment but the film was worthwhile regardless.

Ash Chandler plays Savio Monteiro, a mid-level marketing manager who dreams of becoming rich from his edible underwear idea. An encounter with a beautiful woman and smooth talking flim-flam man at a marketing conference convinces Savio to mortgage his house to from a partnership to market his edible lingerie.

Meanwhile, Savio's wife unexpectedly becomes pregnant which adds to Savio's anxiety but the hijinks ensue when Savio must contract with the local Portuguese mobster to recover his investment. Meanwhile, the mobster's nephew is taken with Savio's wife and misunderstandings arise from a case of mistaken identity as to the father of her unborn child.

If made and set in the US, Love, Wrinke Free would be a middling affair. However, set in exotic Goa with Christian Indians, Portuguese mobsters, European architecture and tropical beaches, the film's stature is somehow enhanced. Ash Chandler in the lead role has an easy charm and showed some versatility in acting range. Chandler's imitation of Marlon Brando's Vito Corleone was the single funniest scene at this year's Cinequest for me. Ashwin Mushran as the Portguese mobster was also amusing.


Dorfman and L!fe Happens were American comedies with decent sized budgets and well known casts.

Sara Rue played Deb Dorfman, the titular character in Dorfman. I shy, mousy, Jewish accountant at her brother's accounting firm, Deb longs for dashing Jay Cleary (Johann Urb), a television news correspondent who reports from dangerous and exotic locations who happens to be a client of the Dorfmans.

When Cleary gets an assignment halfway around the world, Deb volunteers to housesit and decorate his new loft. While at Casa Cleary, Dorfman meets Winston Cooke Jr. aka Cookie (Haaz Sleiman), a handsome neighbor. During the week she is eagerly awaiting Cleary's return, Dorfman begins a budding romance with Cookie who has all the hallmarks of a playboy.

In addition, Dorfman's father (Elliott Gould) is dumped on her by her brother who himself eventually joins the temporary household when his wife discoers his infidelity. So the Dorfman's are at each other's throats while Deb must decide whether to pursue the journalist or the artist.

The film was very funny although some Cleary and Cookie exhibit some last minute character change which were completely at odds with the setup but otherwise the Dorfman was a passable romantic comedy. A very srong performance by Sara Rue carries the film.

L!fe Happens is as much a gal pal flick as rom com. Krysten Ritter and Kate Bosworth play Kim and Deena, respectively. Best friends and roommates, the two apparently bed enough young men that they need to share condom expenses. One night, two men, one condom. Slow on the draw, Kim rides her stallion bareback and nine months later, Max is born.

Raising her son alone while living with Deena and their unbelievably lithe and virginal roommate Laura (Rachel Bilson), Kim has trouble adjusting to single parenthood and harbors some resentment towards Deena regarding the differences regarding their different circumstances.

When studly Nicholas (Geoff Stults) shows interest in Kim, she lies by saying Max is Deena's child. After that, the film was fairly predictable but still funny, Ritter, Bosworth and Justin Kirk as Deena's initially incompatible boyfriend provide the laughs. Kristen Johnston also appears in a few memorable scenes as Kim's selfish & demanding boss.

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