SFIFF: "Eagle Vs. Shark," "Rocket Science," and More Festival Movie Reviews

by | May 19, 2007 | Comments

We’re currently overseas covering Cannes, but the international temptations of free booze and numerous parties doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten our home turf. San Francisco recently completed its 50th iteration of its International Film Festival, with an accomplished plate of art flicks, comedies, and once-in-a-lifetime screenings. Here’s our final batch of reviews.

[Written by: Tim Ryan and Alex Vo]

Despite the cute visuals and familiar premise of awkward losers and their romantic misadventures, "Eagle Vs. Shark" is not the "Napoleon Dynamite" clone the trailer suggested it was. It is so, so much better. "Eagle Vs. Shark’s" a precious movie, but it’s rarely coy, and dares to ask what previous Gen-Y dramedies have avoided: "If these selfish, neurotic misfits we laugh at were real, what would it really take to make a relationship work?" The answer involves showing them for what they are: complex, indignant, and frequently unpleasant. But despite the misanthropic edge, you can’t turn away. The laughs are genuine because you see a bit of yourself on the screen. Definitely going to watch "Eagle Vs. Shark" again when it opens June 15 in limited release.

"Eagle Vs. Shark:" Can’t we all just get along?

From the "You Kinda Had to Be There" department: A screening of "Brand Upon the Brain!," Guy Maddin’s latest exercise in surreal silent film homage/parody. The film tells the tale of a young boy and his teenage sister who live in a lighthouse orphanage with their cruel, possessive mother and their father, a scientist who conducts sinister experiments on the orphans. A young harpist visits the island, disguises herself as a boy, and investigates the parents’ evil doings while falling into a strange love triangle with their children. The Castro Theater screening featured a number of live elements, including a live orchestra and hilariously (and intentionally) over-serious narration from Joan Chen. Wait, there was more! A team of Foley artists worked their sound-effects magic onstage, slamming mini-doors, dropping pebbles in a pool of water, and munching on celery during a flesh-eating scene. And there was a castrato vocalist that performed two numbers (I had no idea there were any still around). The overall experience exerted a hypnotic pull, one that I can’t imagine translating to DVD – or a traditional theatrical screening, for that matter. "Brand Upon the Brain!" is currently at 87 percent on the Tomatometer; it opened in limited release last Friday.

You know a movie has issues when the best lines go to the narrator. Essentially "Rushmore" meets "Thumbsucker," "Rocket Science" stars Reece Thompson as Hal, a teen with a dreadful stutter. Hal’s also, like everyone else in the movie, a bit underwritten: despite the restrictive speech impediment, he doesn’t appear to have any interests or hobbies to give some semblance of joy in life. Instead, he gets this contrived plot about being corralled into the debate team by his dream girl. Thompson makes Hal such an emphatic creature (you never doubt the significance of whatever’s trying to break through his graceless tongue) that it’s heartbreaking to see him in a movie content to just dissipate into the end credits. "Rocket Science" lands in theaters on August 1.

Reece Thompson as Hal in "Rocket Science."

The visceral, haunting doc "Ghosts of Cite Soleil" is remarkable for a number of reasons: it provides a ground level perspective on a geo-political crisis; it displays how deeply American popular tastes, particularly hip-hop, have become embedded within the psyches of young people around the globe; and it’s framed within a classic narrative, that of the love/hate relationship of two headstrong brothers, in a way that’s as poignant and ironic as the best works of fiction. "Ghosts" chronicles the world of the chimeres, gangs loyal to Haiti’s soon-to-be-overthrown President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in Cite Soleil, a slum on the outskirts of Port-Au-Prince that the UN has declared the most dangerous place in the world. Director Asger Leth’s access to these proceedings is remarkable. Chemire leaders 2Pac and Bily are candid and thoughtful about the increasing hopelessness of their situation, and there is a sense of danger around every corner in the slums. As Variety’s Todd McCarthy noted, "If only due to the access achieved, there has never been anything quite like Asger Leth’s film; it’s amazing it even exists and that the director is still alive." "Ghosts of Cite Soleil" will hit theaters on June 27 in limited release.

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