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Cinequest Picks: ‘Chee & T’ + Shorts

In Culture
SILICON SLACKERS: Chee and T never got into the whole tech thing. They just work for their Uncle Rob.

SILICON SLACKERS: Chee and T never got into the whole tech thing. They just work for their Uncle Rob.

There are a whole lot of movies showing at this year’s Cinequest. And that’s not to mention all the cutting edge virtual reality programming. Here are two of Metro film critic Richard von Busack’s picks for films that are showing this weekend. For more Cinequest highlights, check out our Cinequest package.

Chee & T
Tanuj Chopra’s comedy “about the only two dudes in the Silicon Valley who have nothing to do with technology” won a Special Jury Prize for comedy at the LA Film Festival last year. A brace of underachieving Desi collection agents in Palo Alto (Sunkrish Bala of The Walking Dead and Dominic Rains of A Girl Walks Alone At Night) misadventure their way through the hazards of their jobs, until family ties force them to man up a little. Unpreviewed, but Chopra’s earlier film Punching at the Sun was a hit at Sundance. (Mar 3, 9:30pm California Theatre, Mar 5 at 9pm and Mar 11 8:45pm at Santana Row, and Mar 12 at 4:30pm at the Century 20 in Redwood City.) (RvB)

Shorts One: The Highest Peak
At best, this selection has short films that come to an instant boil. At worst, they have the cheap emotional grab of a TV commercial. The order of the programming is smart—it juxtaposes two films about insurgent Islam, in which children are the pawns. In Pakistan (“The School Bag” by Dheeraj Jindal) and Palestine (Pierre Dawalibi’s “Today They Took My Son”) different sides of the battle lines trigger the violence, with Jindal taking a view of a tragedy from the soft interior views of a home, and Dawalbi capturing the mania of the streets of an occupied land, in jitteryTrainspotting-like small camera images. One sympathizes, and yet neither one really worked.

The crowd pleaser “The Final Show” by Dana Nachman stars Marion Ross of TV’s Happy Days, negotiating a troublesome afterlife. Somewhere along the way to old age, I lost the ability to laugh every time a codger with dentures expresses his sexual urges.

Kate Coiro’s “Wig Shop,” starring Emily Mortimer, plays like a calling-card film: there seems to be a feature film trying to escape from this short about an Orthodox Jewish wife on an ulterior-motive laden shopping trip to a South LA wig boutique. Moritmer’s accent and performance were unimpeachable.

It’d be a happier world if we got as much of Lili Taylor in the movies as we get of, say, Ryan Reynolds, so her presence in “Modern Houses” by Matthew Dixon is more than welcome. She’s an architect haunted, or rather, taunted, by her latest project, a small wooden model of a modernist mansion. What appears to be Twilight Zonefodder merely externalizes the conflict that holds an artist back.  Many times, the saddest direction for a speculative horror film is “there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for this.”

David Steiner’s brief black and white chunk-o’-angst, A Couple, demonstrates one happy thing: Jean Eustache’sThe Mother and the Whore (1973) is apparently not forgotten by today’s filmmakers.

Getting up to the top of the offerings: “Brian Mickler” by New York’s Michael Jackson is part of a short film series the director is doing called Harlemites. Some of the derelict remains of the Renaissance years of the 1920s are backdrops in this story of the rapidly changing neighborhood. In it, a young man poses as a doctor to help his alcoholic mom. Jackson’s angles, cityscapes and approaches are all unique, and one wants to see more.

Best in show by a mile is the Iranian offering “Limbo” by Ghasideh Golmakani.  Describing it makes it sound like yet another actor’s exercise—two men sort of trapped in a room. Yet it’s the best movie about the veterans of Iran’s Iraq war since Jafar Panahi’s 2003 Crimson Gold.  A colossally obese man is being tattooed by a young, skeptical kid during a hot day; the fat man’s body is already inked, covered with the names of people he knew that were killed.

A sense of menace grows as this short film expands to the border of a supernatural war story.  Does the old soldier with his hollow voice have a healed bullet wound in his head, or is it just a so-called “zabiba”, the bump a devout Muslim gets from tapping his head against the carpet five times a day? If it’s the former, how did he live? It’s as if this stranger were swollen like a tick from all the blood he spilled, or perhaps he’s an evil spirit, materialized to intone the horror of war.  (Plays Mar 5, 10:30am and Mar 7 at 3:30pm at the Century 20 in Redwood City.) (RvB)

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