Wild, Wild CineFest

By Matt Prigge and Sean Burns
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Apr. 6, 2011

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Congratulations: We’re now a city with two big international film festivals. Having split with the Philadelphia Film Society, which now runs the fall’s Philadelphia Film Festival, TLA Entertainment finally brings us a CineFest, albeit in abridged form. Lasting only a week, we’ve rounded up a list of many of the films that are showing.

Bhopali: Max Carlson’s Slamdance-feted doc is a feature-length infomercial about the industrial disaster that contaminated Bhopal, India, in 1984, a matter still unresolved by the corporations that caused it. As with The Cove , the subject is a must-know, but that doesn’t excuse the one-note filmmaking. C+ Sun., April 10, 5pm; Mon., April 11, 4:30pm

Caterpillar: Lieutenant Kurokawa (Keigo Kasuya) returns from war a hero—and missing all four limbs and the ability to speak apart from grunts. Shinobu Terajima deservedly scored a Golden Bear as the wife forced to tend to her husband, who, reduced to sub-sub-human status, requires only food and sex. Former “pink” film director Koji Wakamatsu ( United Red Army ) is onto something when depicting the increasingly untenable relationship between his leads, but his anti-war message is far more powerful before he makes it head-thonkingly blatant. C+ Wed., April 13, 2:15pm

The Catechism Cataclysm: Does Stevie from Eastbound and Down work without Kenny Powers? In his first vehicle, Steve Little plays a man-child pastor who ensnares a guy he knew in high school (Robert Longstreet) into a doomed canoeing trip. Todd Rohal’s last feature, The Guatemalan Handshake, toggled between poetry and irritation, and a good deal of his follow-up is the latter, encouraging some dodgy improv out of its star. Some gems slip through, though, and Longstreet proves a gradually-winning straight man, in ways funnier than his goofball costar. C+ Thurs., April 7, 9pm; Fri., April 8, midnight

Cold Fish: Fish store owner Murata (Benben) is so absurdly gregarious there has to be a catch. And there is: He’s the Robert Pollard of serial killers, and he soon entangles, by way of bullying, meek Shamoto (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) into his web. Shamoto’s arc, which eventually turns him into a vindictive monster, is both facile and debatably repugnant. But the latest from Sion Sono ( Suicide Club, Love Exposure ) is mostly owned, or more accurately hijacked, by Benben’s ravenous performance as the gabbiest psycho since Michael Gambon in The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover . C+ Fri., April 8, 2:15pm; Tues., April 12, 9:15pm

The Human Resources Manager: A slight rebound from the hoary metaphor of Lemon Tree , the latest from Israeli filmmaker Eran Riklis trails the thawing of an icy bureaucrat (Mark Ivanir) as he accompanies the corpse of a worker killed at a Jerusalem bakery back to her Eastern European home. Segueing between cynical satire and warm compassion, Riklis’ film winds up on the latter side, but keeps things sour and overcast for longer than most would. B- Wed., April 13, 7:30pm  

 Ip Man 2: The inevitable sequel to the 2008 film on martial arts legend Ip Man —most notable to Westerners for training Bruce Lee—offers more of the same, which is wholly welcome. Having overcome Japanese imperialists in installment one, Donnie Yen’s reticent ass-kicker struggles to establish a Wing Chun school and defeat a cocky British boxer who felled a respected rival (Sammo Hung). As recent multi-part biopics go, it’s inferior to Carlos but better than Mesrine , even if the second half is essentially Rocky IV only, like, good. B Mon., April 11, 12:15pm; Tues., April 12, 9:30pm

My Joy: In the words of Nelson Muntz, I can think of two things wrong with that title. It’s no surprise that a survey of modern, rural Russia would bring the opposite of joy, but the “my” is the more interesting lie. A documentarian making his first fiction, Serhiy Lonznytsya sends a trucker into the belly of Russia, then halfway through ditches his protagonist completely, thus floating from horror to horror. As formally adventurous as it is bleak, My Joy doesn’t simply say “don’t be born in Russia,” but that the misery of the Stalin era is deeply ingrained in the modern day and may have even, under Putin, been revived. B+ Sun., April 10, 5:15pm; Tues., April 12, noon

Potiche: François Ozon returns to the retro camp of 8 Women with the slightly more straight adaptation of Pierre Baulet and Jean-Pierre Grédy’s enjoyably feminist play. Catherine Deneuve plays a potiche (roughly “trophy wife”) who assumes control of husband Fabrice Luchini’s umbrella factory while he’s on medical leave. When he asks for it back, she refuses, having tasted the satisfaction of responsibility. Ozon makes himself known primarily through retina-searing candy colors and loud clothing, while the actors have the time of their lives. Thin soup but tasty. B Sat., April 9, 7pm

Stake Land: Zombie movies are popular; vampire movies are really popular. Why not combine them? Jim Mickle’s shrewd indie, following the postapocalyptic exploits of a scarred kid (Connor Paolo) and a taciturn badass (co-writer Nick Damici), does just that and still feels like a retread, hitting most of the zombie genre requisites. What Mickle does bring that’s borderline fresh is a fragile seriousness —it’s Zombieland played straight and, more importantly, not stupid. B- Sat., April 9, 10pm

Womb: Eva Green plays a woman who agrees to fertilize the egg of her deceased beloved’s clone. Pretty soon, she’s shooting doe eyes at the young kid, and eventual man (current Doctor Who Matt Smith), who emerged from her body, which conveniently never ages. There are scores of angles from which to attack this, many of them uncomfortable, but Benedek Fliegauf’s hushed mood piece never commits to one. That, not the glacial filmmaking and paucity of dialogue, is what makes Womb singularly boring. C Sun., April 10, 7:30pm

Ceremony: Wearing a weasely moustache and a bad red suit, 20-something children’s book writer Michael Agarano crashes the exclusive Hamptons wedding of his one-time flame (Uma Thurman.) Director Max Winkler (son of Fonzie) tries to mine a Rushmore vein but can’t keep the protagonist’s heartbreak from tipping over into the insufferable. Pushing Daisises ’ Lee Pace costars as the not so happy husband, boasting a silly accent and history of starring in documentaries about Africa. Thurman hits a few fine, regretful notes, but she’s the only remotely relatable person in the picture. I just wanted the rest of them to die. C- Sat., April 9, 7:30pm

Cost Of A Soul: Iraq has nothing on North Philly. At least according to this grim, overwrought melodrama about a couple of vets who return home and face a battlefield worse than anything they fought over there in the Middle East. Writer-director Sean Kilpatrick’s debut feature has the best of intentions and a lot on its mind. Too bad it’s also a po-faced, routine crime drama heavy on the over-emoting, drifting at times from black-and-white to color in ostentatious, Wizard Of Oz splotches, relying on annoyingly “ironic” music cues and run-of-the-mill street violence. C- Sun., April 10, 7pm and 9:15pm

Fubar: Balls To The Wall: This sequel to 2002’s Fubar will test your tolerance for dim-witted metalheads. David Lawrence and Paul Spence reprise their roles as the Wayne and Garth of a perpetually zonkned Alberta. This unasked-for follow-up finds the duo staring down testicular cancer while seeking work on a pipeline. The wasted heroes aren’t funny so much as sad, with low rent domestic issues that are more tiresome than clever. Writer-director Michel Dowse again employs the mock documentary format for no apparent reason, and the entire enterprise feels like a joke that was already old, ages ago. D Wed., April 13, 8pm; Thurs., April 14, 5pm

Square Grouper: The Godfathers Of Ganja: Aren’t stoners dull? At least cokeheads break stuff. Directors Billy Corban and Alfred Spellman, who helmed the popular Cocaine Cowboys , turn their attention to marijuana smugglers in the 1970s. First up is the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church, who let children smoke weed and ran a massive operation out of Miami while also apparently finding time to grow gigantic, ugly beards. Later comes Philly’s infamous Black Tuna Gang, and the enormous amounts of weight carried by these guys. The problem here is that nobody much cares about pot anymore, despite the messianic claims of the subjects that grow tedious, quickly. C Sat., April 9, 4pm

Two Gates Of Sleep: Largely devoid of dialogue, writer-director Alistair Banks Griffin’s debut feature follows two brothers lugging their mother’s casket up-river in rural Mississippi. Borrowing a shit-ton of tropes from Terence Malick, this sumptuously photographed, eventually enervating movie is heavy on nature sounds and light on characterization. Shots are stolen left and right from Days Of Heaven and The New World , but the central figures remain enigmatic. For all the stylistic flourishes, it’s a movie about a couple of sullen guys smoking a lot of cigarettes in stained undershirts. C Sat., April 9, 2:30pm; Mon., April 11, 5pm

Wuss: High School is a dangerous hothouse of sublimated sexuality and simmering resentments in this startlingly moving film by first-timer Clay Liford. Nate Rubin stars as a bullied, pathetic substitute teacher, taunted and tortured by his students. But once he wins the fancy of a gun-running teenage gal named “Butt Whore,” retribution plans become difficult, and costly. There’s a scene-stealing performance by mumblecore regular Alex Karpowkky as the Vice Principal and kudos to the cryptic, beguiling turn from newcomer Alicia Anthony as a girl with a secret. This movie stays with you, long after the credits roll. B+ Fri., April 8, 5;15pm; Mon., April 11, 9:30pm

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