The Pacific Arts Movements’ 15th Annual San Diego Film Festival kicks into full gear this week with ten days (November 6–15) of seemingly nonstop movies.
Artistic director Brian Hu and his team have once again assembled a lineup that leaves all other local festivals in the dust. As much as we hate to plug our cursed competition, the recent appointment of Glenn Heath (CityBeat film critic and former San Diego Latino Film Festival programmer) as Pac-Arts managing director gives local cinephiles even more reason to rejoice.
The majority of films screen at SDAFF’s flagship location, UltraStar Mission Valley, with others showing at Reading Cinemas Gaslamp 15, UCSD’s Calit2 Atkinson Hall, USD’s Shiley Theatre, and Arclight Cinemas. Closing night festivities will be held at MCASD’s Sherwood Auditorium. For more information visit pac-arts.org.
A few picks follow:
A Hard Day
The worst day of a man’s life is about to take a turn for the macabre. Bounding home from his mother’s funeral, homicide detective Gu-Soo (Lee Sun-kyun, gracefully piling on the frustration) accidentally strikes and kills a pedestrian. Wondering where to stash the stiff, the remarkably resourceful Lee converts mom’s funerary box into a casket built for two. As curtain-raisers go, it trumped this year’s competition.
In only his second film in almost a decade, director Kim Sung-hoon (How the Lack of Love Affects Two Men) displays a mastery of the art of building and sustaining suspense. Watching Lee resourcefully smuggle the corpse into the mortuary or later give chase to a potentially corroborating witness will no doubt spike your heart rate. However, as tightly constructed as they are, a few crackerjack action scenes do not a policier make.
The latest edition of The Film Critic’s Book of Rules allows for only one flagrant coincidence per film, and then only if it’s administered early on. It just so happens the man Lee flattened on that deserted stretch of road is wanted for murder. A Hard Day delivers its doozy up front, but it doesn’t stop there.
Happenstance happens, and the only way Sung-hoon can untangle his complex plotting is with a third-act logjam of fortuitous events, almost steering it in the direction of a hard watch before a compensatory kicker rings down the curtain.
SPOILER ALERT TWOFER: Between this and Nightcrawler, it’s swell to see bad guys triumph in the end.
— Scott Marks
Man From Reno
What has the title of a ’50s Republic oater yet plays like a film noir reboot of It Happened One Night? This year’s contribution from SDAFF regular Dave Boyle! Known for his string of inspired romantic comedies (Surrogate Valentine, Daylight Savings), the writer-director now finds himself making a successful leap to the dark side with this decidedly “hard-Boyled” thriller.
Her sudden, self-imposed departure from society finds Aki (Ayako Fujitani) — an internationally best-selling author of spy novels endowed with a potentially career-crippling secret of her own — cast as a central figure in a real-life crime investigation. Aki hasn’t run out of ideas, she just “wants to see it end.” With a straight razor for a tub toy, it’s difficult to discern whether she’s referring to her popularity or her life.
Add to this the parallel story of Paul Del Moral, an aging small-town sheriff (played with quiet, seen-it-all aplomb by character actor luminary Pepe Serna) who crosses paths with Aki when her mysterious one-night stand turns out to be his subject of pursuit.
Boyle’s general affinity for black-and-white filming is felt in every frame of this low-key Technicolor spin through the streets of San Francisco. Reno opens with an austere, rain-slicked nod to Robert Aldrich’s L.A.-based Kiss Me Deadly before proceeding to pay tribute to a cluster of San Francisco–based noirs, most notably The Maltese Falcon and Vertigo.
If there’s one complaint to be voiced, it’s over the lack of balance between the converging stories. Aki’s tale of seduction and abandonment has a tendency to overshadow, leaving us wanting more interplay between Paul and his daughter (Elisha Skorman), a girl eagerly following in her father’s flat footsteps.
From where I sit, Boyle is batting a thousand. It’s just a matter of time before the festival circuit paves the way to commercial success. Here’s your chance to see him when.
— Scott Marks
The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness
AKA The Rise and Fall of Studio Ghibli? Yeah, probably, at least if you listen to cofounder and chief director Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Howl’s Moving Castle). “The future is clear,” he intones with an old man’s matter-of-factness as he smokes in the studio’s rooftop garden, “it’s going to fall apart.” And why not? Movies he says, mattered once, but now, “Is this not just a grand hobby? I’m done making movies. It’s futile now.” Besides, “The world is mostly rubbish,” and disaster is looming on the horizon.
In this lovely and gently searching documentary, he and fellow cofounder Isao Takahata are both working on their final features (The Wind Rises and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, respectively), though Miyazaki wonders aloud about whether his former mentor/creative partner still has what it takes to get the job done. (There’s no doubt about Miya-san, however: at 72, he remains a steady dynamo of activity, participating in every aspect of the film’s production. It’s hard to imagine what he’ll do with his retirement.) “Think I’m cruel?” he asks, smiling just a little.
Actually, no. Just frank — and an old master’s frankness can be a positive delight. If you don’t enjoy the above bluntness and pessimism, you can always take comfort in his insight, his care, and even his compassion. (One of the film’s great high points is his reading of a letter to a man he met, very briefly, during a World War II air raid.) Whether or not moviemaking is futile, Miyazaki pours himself fully into his art, and it is both pleasure and privilege to watch it happen.
— Matthew Lickona
Meet the Patels
Simply astonishing: a documentary about marriage, family, romance, and cultural assimilation that keeps a light touch without veering into mockery, caricature, or broad comedy of the record-scratch variety. Ravi Patel is an almost-30 actor living in Los Angeles with his sister Geeta. His parents (both born in India) want him to marry an Indian girl, preferably another Patel. Ravi wants the same thing: he loves his family, even his extended family. He loves where he comes from, the culture that produced him (which is not to say that he can’t poke fun at it). The only trouble is, the only girl he’s ever loved or dated is white, and he can’t bear to tell his parents about it. Eventually, the strain proves so great that he breaks up with her.
That’s when Geeta picks up her camera and starts filming her brother’s adventures in wife-hunting, Indian-style. What follows is a detailed tour of a subculture that still believes in the principles (if not all the practices) behind matrimonial matchmaking. Ravi is sent on a nationwide tour of prescreened dates, then on an internet dating spree, then through the gauntlet of Indian marriage season, and finally, to the Patel Matrimonial Convention. It’s a little bit fascinating and a little bit funny, but the real revelation here is the intimate portrait of a family struggling to resolve a problem without forsaking the love that binds and blesses them all.
— Matthew Lickona