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Find Something New: Best of Cinequest

In Culture
ARTESANAL COMIC: Fred Armisen first blew up on ‘SNL,’ but he best known for his hipster satire sketch comedy show ‘Portlandia.’

ARTESANAL COMIC: Fred Armisen first blew up on ‘SNL,’ but he best known for his hipster satire sketch comedy show ‘Portlandia.’

Cinequest wraps up this weekend with personal appearances by director Walter Hill, actress Jane Lynch, Garbo on the big screen at the 90 year old California Theater, and a just-announced appearance by Fred Armisen.

SNL vet Armisen’s best-known starring vehicle is Portlandia, a rubber joke-shop dagger aimed at the heart of the hipster. TV’s Portlandia defined so much alterna-culture, from compulsory man-bun to compulsive artisanal pickling. Such baseball as The Rose City has today—RIP, the Portland Beavers—is because of a collegiate-league team called the Portland Pickles, in honor of a Portlandia sketch. In various wigs and guises, Armisen excels as a forlorn beta male in America’s most studiously tolerant town

Lynch is similarly best-known for her Emmy-winning appearance as the head meanie in charge on TV’s Glee. And artsy action director Hill helmed cult classic The Warriors and the ahead-of-its-time The Driver, a key influence on the Ryan Gosling-starring Drive. There’s a special place in movie Valhalla for B movies that are a lot better than they have to be, and Hill’s newest, The Assignment, is one such flick. Michelle Rodriguez brings a surprising amount of power and feeling to this story of a gunman given an involuntary sex change by a villain. Likely, it’s not for the cisgendered to defend this movie, which has been attracting some Internet flack. But it needs defense: it’s not at all about transgenderism, and it is all about pulp fiction.  

Also wrapping up the last weekend of Cinequest is Che and T, Tanuj Chopra’s comedy “about the only two brown [Desi, in this case] dudes in the Silicon Valley who have nothing to do with technology.” Sunkrish Bala of The Walking Dead and Dominic Rains of A Girl Walks Alone At Night as a pair of underachievers who misadventure their way through the hazards of their jobs, until family ties force them to man up.

Similarly, The Dunning Man, written and directed by Michael Clayton, features a loser (James Carpinello) given a job chasing money. He’s a rent collector at an Atlantic City apartment building, tangling with various weirdos: a pair of Chechnian gangster/furries who own a live tiger; a profane rapper (Langston Fishburne, Laurence’s son); and an attractive downstairs neighbor (Dawn Lyen-Gardner). Clayton’s eye is sharp, and his speed is admirable, but it’s time to retire the device of hypertextual titles describing the characters, accompanied by a typewriter clacking sound (we ain’t watching Divorce Court here).

More trouble in a resort town: Ramsey Davison’s documentary, What Happened in Vegas, is a first person account of the trouble he faced when he reported witnessing the brutality of LVPD officers.

At the first Shorts program, familiar faces include Marion Ross of Happy Days, Emily Mortimer (the upcoming Mary Poppins Returns) and Lili Taylor (Short Cuts, The Addiction). The order of the programming is smart—it juxtaposes two shorts 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 Muslim/Infidel violence are analyzed; Jindal takes a view of a tragedy from the soft interior views of a home, while Dawalbi captures the mania in the streets occupied lands. Sadly, neither one really worked, despite their value and seriousness.

Best in show by a mile—one of the best in the fest—is the Iranian short Limbo by Iran’s Ghasideh Golmakani. Describing it makes it sound like yet another actor’s exercise: two men sort of trapped in a room. A colossally obese elder is being tattooed by a young, skeptical kid on a hot day; the fat man’s body is already inked, covered with the names of people he knew that were killed. 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. Today, we generally know too much about a movie before we see it. Cinequest proves it’s still possible to discover a film, to walk in on something startling and new.

Fred Armisen
Mar 11, 12pm, $15
California Theatre, San Jose

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