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Movie Reviews
Quirky Foot Fist Way could be a sleeper hit
by Rajkhet Dirzhud-Rashid - SGN A&E Writer

The Foot-Fist Way
Opening June 6

The weather's bad, and it seems like Summer will never come, so what do you need, bunky? You need a totally silly slice of life from MTVFilms like The Foot Fist Way, that's what you need. And, trust me, when you're done laughing your ass off watching the often-hilarious situations these folks get up to, you won't care that summer's been delayed.

The film revolves around a low-key Tae Kwon Do studio run by average guy Fred Simmons, who also has a curvy blonde wife who's given to wearing clothes that looks like she buys her whole wardrobe from Frederick's of Hollywood.

Fred wants his studio to succeed and wants to inspire his students, especially two of them who will probably remind you of all of the lovable loser types from films like The Mighty Ducks and Bad News Bears, or similar films. Unfortunately, his wife - who works as a fitness instructor, then gets a job in a local office, and immediately starts to slut around with the male co-worker - doesn't have the same agenda. She disrespects him, emasculates him in front of friends at a dinner where some very interesting conversation transpires (this scene will have you laughing, believe me). And after meeting his idol and bringing him back to do a presentation during the studio's testing, his wife sleeps with the guy, bringing Fred to a catharsis that changes his life and the lives of his students.

A laugh-out-loud, heartwarming and downright human film that presents the whimsies of relationships in a fresh, new light, The Foot Fist Way will undoubtedly be this summer's "sleeper" film. I loved this film, and hey, if it can make a "day from hell" better for me, I'm sure it'll tickle you and is completely worth the price of a ticket.

Energetic Kung Fu Panda a joyful kick
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

Kung Fu Panda
Opening June 6

Po (Jack Black) loves kung fu. More, he's obsessed with the fearsome Furious Five; Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Monkey (Jackie Chan); ancient animal warriors trained to absolute perfection by their taskmaster guru Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman).

But he never expected to be learning martial arts right along side these titans, yet that's exactly what happens when legendary Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) sees greatness and chooses Po to fulfill an ancient prophecy to save his village from ruination. At first, training is a disaster; the overweight panda unable to accomplish even the simplest of tasks Shifu asks him to attempt, the teacher at his wit's end trying to come up with methods to find this supposed "greatness" hidden inside.

Soon the Furious Five - especially the gracefully agile, razor-clawed Tigress - are getting more and more tired of the guy's utter failure to do a single thing right. Worse, the vengeful Tai Lung (Ian McShane) is headed their way seeking timeless secrets which could make him an all-powerful force of devastation and chaos. It is ultimately up to Po to save the day, and if he puts his heart to the task at hand, maybe the unlikely hero will find that his greatest weaknesses might just turn out to be his greatest strengths - he'd just better find out fast before the treacherous snow leopard arrives to rip him and his township to shreds.

In what can only be thought of as one of the year's biggest surprises, DreamWorks' Kung Fu Panda is about as giddy a piece of family-friendly entertainment as any I'm likely to see this year. Move aside, big green ogre Shrek, but this tale of a karate-chopping roly-poly panda might just be the best animated feature the studio has ever produced. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it rivals both Pixar's A Bug's Life and especially Cars as far as sheer entertainment value is concerned, the movie a bubbling burst of effervescent joy I loved pretty much start to finish.

It begins with Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger's (original staff writers for FOX's King of the Hill) multi-layered and winningly plotted screenplay. The stupid trailers did nothing to showcase just how witty all this is, the film going beyond the obvious pratfalls and parodies the studio usually revels in and achieving a cheer-worthy effervescence impossible to resist. More, the ultimate moral of believing in one's self no matter what the outward world might think is one I think all of us can get behind, all of it delivered with a subtly beguiling simplicity that kept the preview audience I saw it with utterly enthralled.

As for the voice actors, all do a wonderful job and are certainly worthy of praise. But as good as Jolie, Rogan, McShane, Cross, Chan, Liu et al are, none of them compare to what both Black and especially Hoffman accomplish. These two take their characters and turn them into instantly iconic sensations. Like Woody and Buzz, Marlin and Dory, and, yes, Donkey and Shrek, Po and Shifu are a classic animated comedy team I couldn't get enough of, and by the time the film finally ran its course I was almost sad to see them go.

But the big story here is the animation. Nothing I've seen from DreamWorks could have prepared me for just how dexterous and astonishing their accomplishment here is. Every detail, every color, every shape, every movement is remarkably precise. This might be the most sensational looking cartoon epic since last year's Oscar-winning phenomenon Ratatouille, and while I wouldn't quite put this one in that particularly rarified company, the movie is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the funny bone.

The whole thing is a multicolored blast I didn't want to see end, and by the time it was over I was probably cheering near as loud as the group of grade-schoolers sitting just a few seats away from me. In other words, Kung Fu Panda is about as good as animated features get, and for parents looking for something the whole family can enjoy, this is the very movie they've been waiting all summer for.

SGN coverage of SIFF continues
by Herb Krohn - SGN Contributing Writer

Apollo 54 - Italy - Subtitled
Rating: Bomb
June 12, 9:30 p.m., Harvard Exit,
June 15, 4:00 p.m., Harvard Exit

Imagine a spaceship that operates along a steel cable suspended through space. That's what this Italian comedy offers as two spaced-out space cadets enter and travel among the galaxies. The ship captain, Bobbie Joe, screams and yells a lot at his equally incompetent co-pilot, Jim Bob. While it sounds like fun, it wears painfully thin after 20 minutes or so of this black and white feature. Enough already, the jokes and situation comedy become tedious and boring in what would probably have been a great 20-minute short, which happens to star the film's creators.

Bottle Shock - USA
Rating: Excellent
June 14, 6:30 p.m. - Cinerama
SIFF Closing Night Gala Feature

There was a time when California wines were considered less than fashionable; it took many years before wine connoisseurs took the Napa Valley seriously. This delightful SIFF entry is a dramatization of how California finally became recognized worldwide for quality winemaking. The story centers on the father and son relationship of James and Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena Winery and their personal struggle, both with each other and with the creation of a perfect product. A down and out British wine snob who lives in Paris dreams up the idea of generating attention for his wine tasting academy by setting up a head-to-head blind taste competition between French and California wines. He travels to the Napa Valley to choose the wines for the contest. The result is a delicious romp with colorful characters, romance, humor, drama, and suspense as we await the wine expert's judgment. Set in the 1970s, Chris Pine shines as the young and very sexy Bo who is trying to both find and define himself in the eyes of his father. If you enjoy fine wine, don't miss this excellent and enjoyable SIFF entry.

Cherry Blossoms - Germany/Japan - Subtitled
GLBT Interest
Rating: Excellent
June 13 6:30 p.m., Uptown
June 15, noon, Cinerama

The story of an aging German couple, Trudi and her husband Rudi, who we learn at the beginning has been diagnosed with some sort of illness that is not specifically disclosed to either him or the audience. Trudi takes him on a trip to visit one of their sons and his family as well as their Lesbian daughter and her lover in Berlin. The siblings really have little patience or interest in hosting their parents and much of their time is spent with their daughters' girlfriend, who is much more receptive and willing to act as tour guide. Feeling unwelcome in Berlin, they head for the Baltic Sea, and shortly after their arrival Trudi dies unexpectedly. The story turns to center on Rudi's loneliness and his quest to try to resolve the turmoil he feels for planning on waiting until his upcoming retirement to take Trudi to Japan to visit their son and allow her to experience traditional Japanese dance which she so loved. Filmed during the cherry blossom season and culminating near Mt. Fuji, this is a masterpiece of love and the painfulness of the ultimate separation at the end of life. This gem is an emotional yet beautiful story of the loved shared by two people.

Choke - USA
Rating: Below Average
June 5, 9:15 p.m., Egyptian
June 7, 4:00 p.m., Uptown

Victor and Brad are best friends who both happen to be sex addicts who work in a revolutionary-era reconstructed village as performers/guides. Victor's mom, in a show-stealing portrayal by Anjelica Huston, is a patient in a Catholic psychiatric hospital. Victor attends sex addicts 12-step meetings where he spends most of the time in the back room banging away at a female participant, and obtains free meals and extra cash by faking choking on food at various restaurants. His mother's condition begins to deteriorate and he becomes involved with the attractive new female physician at the hospital who engages him in sex to obtain his sperm for an experimental treatment she is going to attempt on his mom. This comedy, while clever and mildly entertaining, just doesn't rise to the level one would expect in such a production with this talent.

Days and Clouds - Italy - Subtitled
Rating: Good
June 10, 7:00 p.m., Uptown
June 14, 1:30 p.m., Uptown

A storyline that has been done many times over, the breadwinner loses his job and conceals this from his wife for several months because he doesn't want her to worry, especially as her graduation from college approaches. Finally confessing as tough times set in, the audience watches as things go from tough to bad to worse and the strain it places on their relationship as they have to sell their home, and she must work to support them while he lapses further into depression and despair. Yet this production makes great use of Italian locations, historic structures, and art to make it a film worth seeing. Completely realistic and believable with excellent performances, this film captures the difficulty and obstacles many couples face in economic upheavals of today's global economy.

Fields of Fuel - USA - Documentary
Rating: Outstanding
June 11, 7:00 p.m., Harvard Exit.
June 12, 4:30 p.m., Harvard Exit

Gas prices have topped $4.00 a gallon and are headed towards $5.00, food prices are increasing, and we as a nation are engaged in what is arguably the largest export of our collective wealth in our nation's history to the oil despots of the Middle East. While the long-term catastrophic economic effect of our predicament is not the focus of the film, the effect of our nation's increasing dependence on foreign petroleum imports is. This study explores the history of our nation's appetite for fuel and the internal combustion engine, and focuses on potential solutions including their pitfalls. This is a must-see examination of our oil addiction and the innovative ways we can overcome our national energy crisis. The only real weakness is the lack of critical analysis of the limitations and complications of turning food production into fuel production both domestically and internationally along with the food shortages and negative impacts on areas such as the South American jungles, though the film does touch on this issue. This documentary examination really dives deep into the environmental improvements that can be made and the experimental ventures into creating biofuels from non-food sources.

Hamdi & Maria - Israel - Subtitled Documentary (short)
Rating: Outstanding
June 6, 4:00 p.m., Harvard Exit (screens with This Way Up)

This emotional short examines the efforts of Hamdi, a Palestinian father, to care for his quadriplegic daughter Maria after the car they were riding in suffered collateral damage in an Israeli missile attack on a vehicle ahead occupied by armed terrorists. The wife and mother was killed and the very young daughter is learning to adjust to life in a wheelchair and high-tech medical support. What is even more remarkable is the outpouring of support by ordinary Israelis and the lack of overt hostility by Hamdi as he spends nearly all his time by his daughter's side, helping her with the constant care she will probably require for the rest of her life. This unusual profile really reduces the complex Middle Eastern conflict to the human terms, the lifelong effects of the bloodshed on a beautiful young child, and the senselessness of violent conflict without a resolution in sight.

Letting Go of God - USA (World Premiere)
Rating: Outstanding
June 13, 6:30 p.m., SIFF Cinema
June 15, 4:00 p.m., SIFF Cinema

Julia Sweeny engages the audience in a lengthy segmented monologue on religion and her evolution throughout her life to reconciling her religious upbringing in the Catholic faith with rational thought. Using humorous and clever observations and insight, she provides the audience with a detailed examination into her personal struggle with the concepts of spirituality and faith in such a way that clearly and thoughtfully demonstrates how she progressed to resolve her quest. While she became an atheist, what is particularly fascinating is how well her journey is presented so that even those who completely disagree with her can gain an understanding and insight as to how she came to her own conclusions. This entertaining yet deeply personal and thoughtful presentation is a must-see SIFF entry.

Mancora - Spain, Peru - Subtitled
Rating: Below Average
June 7, 6:30 p.m., Harvard Exit
June 8, 11:00 a.m., Harvard Exit

After his former rock star father commits suicide, a depressed, partying, failing Lima student decides to travel to the remote northern resort town of Mancora with his stepsister and her somewhat estranged husband. They drink and party a lot, have incestuous sex, and the film ends with a disastrous conclusion. It's really the story of the descent and self destruction of the main character. The plot has been done over and over again in cinema, the only thing new here are incest and the northern coastal Peruvian countryside, which the film will make you want to visit.

Seachd: The Crimson Snowdrop (Inaccessible Pinnacle)
- Scotland - Subtitled
Rating: Above Average
June 7, 9:30 p.m., SIFF Cinema
June 11, 4:30 p.m., SIFF Cinema

An orphaned boy and his siblings are raised by his storytelling grandfather after the death of their parents in a hiking accident. He struggles with his resentment towards his parents and grandparents resulting from his feelings of abandonment. The plot evolves from his childhood to adulthood, until he finally comes face to face with reality when he returns for what may be his final visit with his dying grandfather.

Stranded: I've Come From a Plane that Crashed on the Mountains
- France, Peru - Subtitled Documentary
Rating: Very Good
June 6, 9:15 p.m., Egyptian
June 10, 9:30 p.m., SIFF Cinema

In 1972 an airplane traveling from Uruguay to Chile with 45 people including a college rugby team on board crashed in the Andes Mountains of Chile. Seventy-two days later, 16 survivors were found who managed to overcome arctic mountain conditions in their quest to live. This story with all of its gruesome details has been the subject of many movies and television shows. Yet this documentary is the first to profile the survivors in detail and even takes them back to the crash site to recall their amazing story of personal triumph to overcome the disaster and the elements to live.

This Way Up - Israel - Subtitled Documentary
Rating: Poor
June 6, 4:00 p.m., Harvard Exit (screens with Hamdi & Maria)

This disjointed live-action documentary may have been trying to convey how disjointed the building of a protective barrier wall between Israel and the Palestinian territories is, or how disjointed life is. No matter, this is a hodgepodge of clips mostly centering on the residents in and around a Catholic operated nursing home located adjacent to the under construction wall. We are shown clips of people using ladders to cross the barriers, the problems even transporting sick elderly residents from one side to the other, as well as lots of interaction of the residents. However, it is just a collection of clips without any coherent story that ever surfaces, making this SIFF submission disappointing and uneven. A few times it seemed as though the filmmakers were finally moving towards a point, only to have it fizzle out into anger and frustrations of the elderly residents with each other because they were getting on each other's nerves. This flick contains far too many long clips of stroke victims' compulsive repetitive outbursts, with no cohesive storyline. Even more frustrating was seeing the filmmakers waste one of the most interesting and coherent residents' life history by not allowing it to be revealed nearly as deeply as it should have been. This is another example of the fact that just because someone has a video camera and an editing program which they can use to make a presentation, it does not necessarily make them a successful filmmaker. They really could have done much more with the location and subject matter than create this disappointing production.

Walt & El Grupo - USA - Partially Subtitled Documentary
Rating: Excellent
June 8, 6:30 p.m., Uptown
June 9, 4:30 p.m., Uptown

On the eve of World War II in 1941, Walt Disney led a group of his artists on a goodwill tour of South America at the request of President Franklin Roosevelt and the US government. The purpose was to improve the relationship between the US and many of these countries who were also being influenced by Nazi Germany. This excellent documentary profiles the people who toured with Disney, and demonstrates the effect this expedition had not only on political relations, but also culturally in both the US and these countries. Using archival footage, the filmmakers go to the same exact places and use transitional photography to show the audience the passage of nearly 60 years in time on the site. It is a fascinating glimpse though time and of a little known US diplomatic effort that had a profound and long-term effect on foreign relations in our hemisphere.

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