In addition to the full length reviews available on the previous page, Jeff Vorndam has written capsule reviews for several additional films shown at 45th The San Francisco International Film Festival, below.


The San Francisco International Film Festival

The San Francisco International Film Festival

The San Francisco International Film Festival

Distance - Hirokazu Kore-eda's new film continues his concern with memory. In this case, it's the memories of the relatives of a group of eco-terrorists who killed themselves after poisoning the Tokyo water supply, causing over 100 deaths. "Distance" refers to the impossibility of relating to those who were there, and how some memories cannot be shared. Contrast this with Kore-eda's previous film, After Life, which is about the positive aspects of memory, and the benefits of sharing memories and experiences.) It's a purposely unsatisfying and ambiguous film, more intent on showing than telling. Flashbacks contradict scenes set in the present, and one is left to question characters' motives and reliability. Distance is a quiet film that requires some reflection to let it reverberate and sink in. Grade: B+

The Lady and the Duke - Eric Rohmer's latest is a yawner set during the French revolution, telling the saga from the point-of-view of a royalist English expatriate in Paris. It's distinguished by its use of CGI and painted backdrops, used for reasons I am unclear about, that makes everything seem surreal. Normally, Rohmer's talky films fascinate me, but when he moves his setting to the past, and relies on a historical text, he loses the richness of characterization that makes his films so memorable. Grade: C+

Me Without You - The soundtrack of punk and new wave classics is the highpoint of this story about a friendship that seriously needs a fork stuck in it. Michelle Williams of Dawson's Creek gives a credible performance as a British college student whose co-dependent friend (Anna Friel) screws with her love life, including a tryst with a Professor played by Kyle MacLachlan (who does excellent work). It drags on well past its climax, and covers too large a time period to settle into a groove. Grade: C+

My Brother the Vampire - Everyone is unlucky with sex in this German comedy, particularly one family consisting of a clueless older brother, a perfectionist little sister, and a retarded middle brother who thinks he's a vampire. The beginning is self-consciously quirky, and the ending is titanically stupid. What saves this film is its unusual editing style--wipes that move with the action, reverse jump-cuts--and droll German humor. "Have you seen the new film with Vincent Gallo?" is thought to be a great pick-up line by the na´ve little sister. Grade: C

The Pinochet Case - Powerful documentary about the quest to bring Chilean dictator General Auguste Pinochet to justice for the disappearance, torture, and murder of thousands of Chilean people. Score one for the collective memory--it's a great sight indeed to see an ashamed Pinochet bury his head under a blanket after being escorted from court. I particularly liked a sequence that was expressed visually on a chessboard, which made it a lot easier to conceptualize the action. But I found the voice-over to be a little overbearing. I don't know if it was the sound mix or what, but it needed to recede. The Pinochet Case would make a good double-bill with Long Night's Journey Into Day, a documentary about the public trials of Apartheid criminals in South Africa. Both films deal with forgiveness, and contend that victims can only forgive when asked. Grade: B+

Pistol Opera - Okay, Seijun Suzuki's films were already out there, but this one is really out there. Although the basic overall story is comprehensible (a female assassin, Number Three, is beset by assassins from all sides--could it be Number One trying to eliminate the competition?), from scene-to-scene it makes little sense. I swear some of these shots and monologues are completely random, and there's no distinction between reality, dream, stage and flashback. The production design is incredible though. Grade: C-

Spirited Away - I enjoyed this much more than Princess Mononoke, which wore its themes on its sleeve. Spirited Away is richer, and absolutely teems with creativity. (Every so often I stopped and wondered, "How did we get here at this point?") It's similar to Alice in Wonderland--a girl falls into a fantastic world with all sorts of creatures, things get curiouser and curiouser, and she grows up a little in the process. It's more cute than Alice In Wonderland, but I didn't mind. The animation is excellent and occasionally breathtaking, and it's directed more like a movie than a cartoon with regards to camera placement and editing. But it still retains animation's ability to visually exaggerate and create fantastic images that normal movies cannot--I can't fathom why someone would want to watch something like Final Fantasy, which deadens animation. Grade: B+

Streeters - Gritty urban drama set in Mexico's mean streets. A teenage boy longs to escape with his girlfriend and child, but gets ensnared in a conflict with a drug dealer/corrupt cop from whom he has stolen. This is a bleak and realistic movie, shot on location and revealing of the conditions the urban poor survive in. It's a shame the story is so trite. Streeters is skippable if you've seen Luis Bunuel's Los Olvidados. Grade: B-

Tribute - Probably the funniest documentary of the year, this one's about those Tribute Bands--you know, bands that dress up like other bands and play their music. (The recent film Rock Star was based on this.) Kris Curry and Rich Fox follow around Kiss, Queen, Journey, The Monkees, and Judas Priest tribute bands. They meet many strange people along the way, none stranger than "Superfan," the world's biggest Queen fan. Admittedly, some of the editing is cut for comic effect, making fools out of the subjects. In most cases, it's balanced with genuine affection as well. Hopefully, this film will find distribution, or at least end up on cable. Grade: B+

War and Peace - Excellent three-hour documentary about the nuclear saber rattling that has been escalating between India and Pakistan. Comprised mostly of interviews with average folks on the street, the movie superbly demonstrates the gulf between the people's will and the greed of those in power. The United States isn't let off the hook either, as the U.S. has distorted its own history in an effort to make Hiroshima and Nagasaki seem like humanitarian decisions, when, in fact, they remain the largest instances of terrorism ever visited upon this world. This film could not be more timely, nor could its message be ignored with greater peril. Grade: A-

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