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The Desert Sun
Film Festiblog 2006
A daily journal of the films, people and happenings at the 2006 Palm Springs International Film Festival

Your Festiblog Hosts: Julie Varnau, Christopher Swan and Jehan Seirafi
Your Festiblog Hosts: Julie Varnau, Christopher Swan and Jehán Seirafi

Daily picks for films that are getting the most buzz, the best reviews, plus the festival programmers’ favorites

Give us your take on the festival or share your must-see picks.

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Advice for beating the crowds, getting the best seats and more...

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Complete film festival coverage

We're in luck . . .
January 16, 2:59 p.m.

and Julie won't have to wait until Christmas to see JOYEUX NOËL. CINEMAS PALME D'OR has announced that they will be featuring several festival films.

A short list includes:
JOYEUX NOËL - March 24

You can continue to check the CINEMAS PALME D'OR website for more films to come. Take a look at CAMELOT THEATRES as well, which is sure to screen a few of the movies, including ADAM AND STEVE, which will be showing soon.

As for the rest, just like Julie said, let the wait begin.

-- Jehan Seirafi

The wait begins...
January 15, 11:37 p.m.
Bust! Shut down again. It’s inevitable that whichever films I desperately wanted to see during the fest but couldn’t make for all variety of reasons, don’t show up on the Best of Fest schedule. This year it’s PERHAPS LOVE, JOYEUX NOËL, LOOK BOTH WAYS and EXPIRATION DATE (especially after reading Jehan’s glowing review). Oh and also KING LEOPOLD’S GHOST, which is screening Monday but an unfortunately-timed meeting ensures I’ll miss that one as well.

Which means the wait is on. Will they ever show up at Camelot or Cinemas Palme d’Or? “Perhaps Love” seems to be a long shot. A very long shot. Sigh. The other four could very well come around, though will we have to wait until a month before Christmas 2006 for “Joyeux Noël”? Patience is a virtue... patience is a virtue...
-- Julie Varnau

Expiration Date - as good as it gets.
January 15, 4:37 p.m.

A theater full of people went home with a great ab workout after Saturday's showing of EXPIRATION DATE. This light-hearted comdedy that deals with the darkest of subjects has all the charm, as well as the laughs, of MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING. Just replace the Ouzo with coffee and you have another sleeper hit.

Charles Silver Cloud III is coming up on his 25th birthday, a date that has cursed his family for generations. Sure that he is going to die by being struck by a milk truck, just like his father and grandfather, he goes about making arrangements, returning his library books and canceling his cell service before he dies. In walks the girl, and she just won't leave him alone.

The film is engaging, funny, and just plain fun to watch. Robert Guthrie plays the incredibly likeable, but just a bit nerdy, Charlie perfectly. Sascha Knopf is Bessie, the girl that is a constant nuisance to Charlie. Unfortunately Knopf's performance seems a bit forced; as if she has never gone through that awkward stage, and the quirkiness of the character just seems awkward on her. However, the performances that absolutely slayed me were by the peripheral players, Arnold the caffeine addict and Wild William, the war vet. I would pay another $10 just to see these two.

The director, Rick Stevenson, producer John Forsen as well as most of the cast showed up for Saturday's screening. After listening to Stevenson talk for only 10 minutes you can see his personality and sense of humor come off the screen.

Since Saturday was only the second screening ever of the film (Stevenson said it was more like the first, since Friday night's audience were all drunk) there are no plans yet for distribution. Let's all cross our fingers and write in to our congress members, oh wait, that's for something else; well, write to somebody and try to get this film released.

A few things we found out during the Q & A:

Due to production errors, we only saw 3/4 of the film on the screen (the sides were cut off), which was unfortunate according to Stevenson, because his best work as a director is on the sides - see what I mean about his sense of humor.

It was hard to find a dairy that would volunteer it's trucks for the movie, since who wants to portray their trucks as killing people. Established Smith's Dairy agreed to it and will soon be putting ads for the film on it's cartons.

The film was only finished 7 weeks ago.

Stevenson put himself in the film as a linen truck driver simply because, according to him, they couldn't afford anyone else.
-- Jehan Seirafi

Review of RIZE
January 15, 10:41 a.m.
“There’s a spirit in the middle of crumpness.”

That’s a quote from one of the central characters of this inspirational documentary, and the quote sums up the vibe of the film perfectly. Crumping is a very unique and very spiritual form of dancing. Somewhere between breakdancing and popping, but performed truly from the soul. If Hip-Hop’s gotten a bad rap regarding its shameless pandering towards the danger of the streets, the appeal of amoral vixens wearing skirts that are more lingerie than clothing, and the lure of the vicious animal of capitalistic consumerism, then Crumping is Hip Hop’s pure cousin who’s yet to bite the corrupt apple.

Forged out of the lethal streets of south-central Los Angeles, the dance form promotes positivity, optimism, healthy competition, unity within the community, charity, and, possibly the most important element, a legitimately attractive alternative to becoming a Crip, a Blood, and eventually a statistic.

With this documentary, the director, David LaChapelle, has done two things. The first is capture a snapshot of contemporary urban culture that is 100% positive. And not only did he simply capture it, he did it in such a way that it’s entertaining for all. I watched it with my 7 yr. old and 4 yr. old sons who both absolutely loved it and learned from it. Their world view is being established to include a positive view not of the dilapidated buildings of the poverty-stricken inner city, but of the solid-gold hearts and souls that occupy those buildings. For that reason, and for the beauty in which he did it, David LaChapelle deserves, at the minimum, a nomination for the academy award for Best Documentary.

The second thing that the director has done is expose this culture to mainstream America, a domain rife with opportunity. Opportunity that has real short-term and long-term effects. Some of those will be positive: professional opportunities to showcase the dance-form, teach the dance-form, etc. And some of those will be negative. The commercializing of such a pure art will eventually diminish the purity that is so appealing to those who perform it, and those who watch it.

But in the end, after watching the documentary, it’s more than obvious that those young men and women who Crump are more than prepared for the challenges and honey traps of professional success. My money’s on them to reach beyond those distractions, and RIZE.
-- Christopher Swan

Get turned away from ‘My Bollywood Bride’?
January 15, 00:47 a.m.
You’re in luck! Due to the overwhelming interest in Saturday night’s world premiere of MY BOLLYWOOD BRIDE, the festival has added an additional screening at 1:15 p.m. Monday at Regal Palm Springs along with the Best of Fest lineup.

The film is very cute and fun, but I found myself wishing former Palm Desert investment banker turned writer/producer Brad Listermann had stuck more to the actual story of how he met, fell in love with and married Indian Bollywood star Kashmira Shah. He actually wove it in with elements of the true life love story of another of the film’s producers.

The cast turned in solid performances all around with the notable exception of fashion model turned actor Jason Lewis (best known as Samantha’s model boyfriend “Smith Jerrod” from Sex & the City) in the lead role. He was hunky as ever but wavered between good and, well, a little awkwardly off in his character delivery at times.

When asked why Lewis was chosen to play the character loosely based on him, Listermann quipped something to the effect of, ‘several women in here can give you the answer to that question – and a few men.’

Listermann, Shah and several producers showed up for the film’s debut, as did Sean Teague (hopefully I got that name right), a desert-grown actor who only came on stage after someone in the audience asked who the hunky bodyguard in the film is. That’s part of him (I know, try not to envy my photography skills :) next to Shah and Listermann in the photo.
-- Julie Varnau

Hard Candy is hard to watch
January 14, 11:25 p.m.
I’ve still got the heebie-jeebies. The performances by both 18-year-old Ellen Page (playing 14-year-old Hayley) and Patrick Wilson (playing the 32-year-old photographer who meets her online) are stunning. Absolutely stunning, as is the script by Brian Nelson.

And in spite of all that, I’m not so sure I could say I’m happy I saw HARD CANDY. But I’m a huge baby about these things. I officially went two films over my zero-tolerance creepy/thriller/horror rule this fest and I now remember why I instituted it in the first place.

The good news is that you won't see anything sexually inappropriate – he doesn’t molest her or anything like that – just inappropriate behavior of all other sorts, and even that it’s more that you know it’s happening. You don’t actually see much of the bad stuff. Still, it’s not for the weak-stomached.

There was a decent-sized crowd at the 11 p.m. latenight screening at Camelot. Director David Slade and actress Ellen Page were there to present the film. Due to the late hour they spoke to the audience briefly prior to the screening. Slade joked that they’d “be happy to stick around and answer questions (after the film) – as long as you don’t attack us or anything like that.”

Its controversial subject-matter has been earning it a lot of low scores on IMDB, but they’ve just come from the Barcelona Film Festival where it won Best Film honors. Palm Springs is only the third festival to host the film so far – they really weren’t sure how it was going to fare on the festival circuit, Slade said – but it has picked up enough momentum that it’s going to be released by Lion’s Gate.

Page was quiet and didn’t seem too keen on all the attention, but she was very well spoken when she did pipe up. After the film at least a dozen filmgoers came by to congratulate her on her terrific (in all senses of the word) performance in the lead role. She hails from Nova Scotia – that answer came with some sort of hand gesture and motto.

You might recognize her from Wilby Wonderful, a favorite from last year’s festival. And according to IMDB, you’ll be able to catch Page as the new "Kitty" Pryde in X-Men 3 later this year.

HARD CANDY screens again Sunday at 6:30 p.m. at Camelot.
-- Julie Varnau

L'Enfant - award worthy?
January 14, 8:09 p.m.

People were lined up outside the theater doors to catch the new film by the Dardennes brothers, L'ENFANT. Ok, maybe that's a little dramatic, there are lines to see every movie at the festival, but these seemed to be just a bit longer considering this particular film had captured the Palme d'Or (Best Picture) award at the Cannes Film Festival this past year. The combination of the award and all the talk about the film being undeserving of it is what got me out of work early and down to the theater.

The film follows a young couple, Sonia and Bruno, struggling to survive in an industrial town in Belgian. At 18 and 20, they find themselves with a newborn child and no way to support him. Bruno, who lives his life as a petty thief, decides to sell the child on the black market for cash (don't worry, I'm not giving anything away, this is the whole premise of the film). He is young and unaware and tells a hysterical Sonia that he just figured they would have another one. What ensues is the harsh reality of his decision.

L'ENFANT is a raw look at life on the bottom rungs of society and doesn't allow the audience any place to hide from it. With little dialogue and no soundtrack, the viewer is forced into Bruno and Sonia's world, and is often very uncomfortable in it. The superb acting by both only solidifies this.

Unfortunately, the minimalism of the film is also it's shortcoming. Its true that American audiences are conditioned by Hollywood to only react positively to constant stimulus (dialog, music, action, etc.), L'ENFANT swings the pendulum too far to the other side. Had it landed somewhere in the middle, this truly would have been an excellent film.

Much of the audience was unimpressed with the film at Thursday nights showing; comments ranged from 'horrible' and 'boring' to 'very much a french film,' a comment that is completely subjective and one I don't think I'm going to touch. Others weren't as harsh, but I didn't find a single audience member that was thrilled by the film.

With the award and the controversy, L'ENFANT could very well end up playing at the Best of the Fest on Monday. So check back at on Sunday to find the full list of features playing.

As the official entry from Belgian for the upcoming Academy Awards, you could very likely see L'ENFANT coming to local theaters, and most definately to DVD. You'll then get the chance to decide for yourself whether Cannes was right.
-- Jehan Seirafi

Brilliant. Touching. Funny. Poignant.
January 14, 12:59 p.m.
C.R.A.Z.Y. is perfect. Go see it.

Its final scheduled screening is underway as I type, but there’s a very good chance you’ll see it on Monday’s Best of Fest lineup and if not there, it’s bound to make the rounds at arthouse cinemas sometime this year. (They’re still working on a U.S. distribution deal.)

Director Jean-Marc Vallée attended the sold-out show, as did two Canadian dignitaries and their entourages. Interest was so great that long lines started more than an hour before showtime and wound practically to the street outside Annenberg before they even began to admit passholders.

The film is Canada’s foreign language submission for the Academy Awards and it has been wildly successful in its home country. According to Vallée, the top films at the Canadian box office in 2005 were 1. Star Wars, 2. Harry Potter and 3. C.R.A.Z.Y. And, he just learned, his film was officially No. 1 in DVD sales.

Notable items from the Q&A:

The young Zachary (the lead character) is played by Vallée’s son Émile.

Not all Canadians iron their toast. That element came from Vallée’s childhood, when one day their toaster broke so they used an iron instead and they really liked it so they kept doing it that way, something about the way the butter melts. “Try it, it’s better,” he suggested to a laughing audience.

Vallée is very proud two to have TWO Pink Floyd songs in the film – a first he says, except of course for The Wall.

Festival Executive Director Darryl Macdonald had erroneously learned at the Toronto festival that it was Vallée’s debut feature film and introduced him as such. Vallée corrected him and when they returned to the Q&A after the show Macdonald had researched it and asked, why has it been 10 years since your last film? Vallée responded that this film took 10 years to make, including five years to write the script (four only part-time). That he hadn’t really been happy with his first three films and he wanted to make this one really something special that he could be proud of.

The story is autobiographical for both him and his co-writer François Boulay. Everything regarding the family and sexual orientation comes from Boulay. The religious elements (and of course the toast) came from Vallée’s experience.

More on C.R.A.Z.Y.
-- Julie Varnau

Best lesbian film ever?
January 14, 11:44 a.m.
IMAGINE ME & YOU is, ahem, in my best British accent: total Hollywood fluff and disappointingly PG – but I loved it anyway.

It’s super-cute, all the stars (Piper Perabo, Lena Headey, Matthew Goode, Darren Boyd) are gorgeous, the performances are spot-on, the script is romantic and très amusante but a little void of depth, even for a romantic comedy. It’s missing about 15 or 20 minutes of story development that could have made it truly superb.

That said, there were smiles on the faces of filmgoers as they left, so much so that one of the volunteers collecting ballots at the exit remarked, “Wow, it’s nice to see an audience come out smiling!”

It’s the sort of pleasant, easy-to-watch film that could play over and over on Starz and Encore, maybe Showtime, then eventually TBS or TNT and you find yourself getting sucked in and watching it again and again.

The most refreshing part of the film is that it’s not a typical gay film. It’s definitely a must-see for the lesbian community (which will be split over whether its not-a-typical-gay-film quality makes it great or total rubbish) but it fits right in with the Meg Ryan You’ve Got Mail/Sleepless in Seattle genre that will appeal to all romantic comedy fans.

Which brings us back to my prediction – is it the best lesbian movie ever? That’s a very tough call. Reigning titleholder Saving Face had equally beautiful stars (Michelle Krusiec, Lynn Chen) and the funny script AND more depth AND hot sex scenes, but there were a couple awkward total-lack-of-chemistry moments. Imagine Me & You is perfectly polished but a little shallow. It’s like choosing between a runway model and the girl next door. I’m going to have to see it again before I make the final call. :)

IMAGINE ME & YOU screens again at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Camelot Theatres. (No worries, ladies. It's short so you'll be home in plenty of time for The L-Word at 10 p.m.)
-- Julie Varnau

In case you missed it...
January 14, 10:30 a.m.
MRS. PALFREY AT THE CLAREMONT, which has garnered glowing reviews from festivalgoers and critics, opens Friday, Jan. 20 at Camelot Theatres. Showtimes: 12 noon, 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m., 7:30 p.m.
-- Julie Varnau

RIZE update (again)
January 13, 2:01 p.m.
Apparently the DVD has been out in stores. How do I know? My own boyfriend already bought it.
-- Jehan Seirafi

Out the side door
January 13, 1:19 p.m.

I went to go see ADAM & STEVE .

I thought it was pretty funny.

Below is where I was going to post the picture I took with Chris Kattan - comic genius and my all-time favorite SNL actor. Can you say MANGO!!!

But he left early out the side door.

I'm too upset to write a review, you can read Julie's below.
-- Jehan Seirafi

January 13, 1:17 p.m.
Film Noir. Tough racket. Bullets, broads, bundles of cash stashed in rusted alligator briefcases. If you venture down the dark alley, you better be prepared to go all the way. ‘Specially if it’s behind the camera. And, for whatever reason, the director of LOST AND FOUND just never allowed himself to go all the way.
And it wasn’t because of a lack of material. It was all there. The shady streets of Copacabana, Brazil. Smoke-filled strip clubs full of desperate hearts looking for something they’ll never find. A disheveled ex-chief of police framed for the murder of his prostituting girlfriend. A corrupt politician calling in a 30 yr. old marker. A beguiling black-widow of a young prostitute looking for a missing cache of cash. All of the elements were on the table, but just never came together.

Not that it’s easy to do. It ain’t. But when you’re a filmmaker stepping into a genre that has produced some flawless classics [The Maltese Falcon (American), The Big Sleep (American), Touchez paz au grisbi (French), Rififi (French), Youth of the Beast (Japanese)] you’re going up against the best of the best, and you’d better bring your A-Game, on every level.

Even over the last few years, with films like Infernal Affairs (Hong Kong), The Alzheimer Case (French), and Sin City (American), audiences have been intrigued, shocked, stunned, and horrified with contemporary film noir. Cutting away from nudity in the shower, leaving stale dialogue, using weak squibs (the exploding blood packs that recreate bullet impact), or muffling gunshots isn’t going to seduce them into wanting to watch more. It’s just going to leave them feeling like they’re missing something. If it’s supposed to be a movie filled with sex and violence, there better be plenty of both. Like the old storytelling adage goes: if you show the audience a gun on the wall in Act I, somebody better use it in Act III.

Part of me feels like the version of the film that the director screened at the Camelot last night was cut for what he thought American audiences would tolerate. If I had to guess, and I am absolutely guessing here, there might be a version of the film that has everything I think was missing in the film. Maybe not. Maybe it’s just my wishful thinking. The same kind a wishful thinking that suffocates the down-on-his-luck detective in all those black and white classics of yesteryear. Somewhere, somehow, the dame’s gonna be innocent. The gun’s not gonna have her prints. There’s gonna be one more cigarette left in the pack on the floor. And the drinks are gonna be free at the end of the night.

And we all know how far that wishful thinking gets him.

Regardless of what I have to say about it, I invite you to check it out for yourself. LOST AND FOUND plays again at 3 p.m. Saturday the 14th at the Camelot in Palm Springs.
-- Christopher Swan

Gay-la film gets loads of laughs
January 13, 12:17 p.m.
Not so much from me, but laughs nonetheless. ADAM & STEVE is definitely “boy humor” of Meet the Parents or Wedding Crashers ilk. I knew I was in trouble when one of the lead actors defecated on the floor within the first 10 minutes – a scene that shocked even Courtney Love we learned in the Q&A. Luckily the rest wasn’t nearly so raunchy but still I found myself a little bewildered as the mostly 35+ (emphasis on the plus) gay man audience was roaring with laughter throughout the film.

One man in back thanked the filmmaker for “such a beautiful, beautiful Valentine to the gay community.” LOL, I must be getting really cynical because when he said that I know I had a confused scrunched up look on my face with one thought: ‘Seriously?’

I found it mildly amusing with uneven performances all around, but they did get me laughing pretty hard near the end with the zany chase and dancing gay cowboys. Parker Posey was – big surprise – definitely the highlight for me.

Regarding the gay cowboys, lest you think they are trying to piggyback off Brokeback Mountain’s success, writer/director/lead actor Craig Chester didn’t even know that was going on when he wrote his movie. It’s as though the time for the gay cowboy has come.

Chester joked that he wrote it because he “just wanted to dance” and later that he hopes that gay country western dancing catches on. Oh it’s here my friend. Just go to Hamburger Mary’s in San Diego on Friday and Saturday or Sidewinders in Cathedral City (that's Palm Springs for you out-of-towners) pretty much any day.

Really though he wrote it because he wanted a gay movie about boyfriends, about them being together, because he feels most gay films are about longing. He grew up watching movies and “subbing himself in” for the Meg Ryans and Julia Roberts and wanted to explore the traditional Hollywood love story – only with two guys. And to that end, the film really did have a very nice message.

To everyone who's going to brave the 9 a.m. show Saturday: Go light on the breakfast, I promise you'll thank me for it.

Craig Chester, co-star Malcolm Gets, actor Chris Kattan of SNL fame, producer Kirkland Tibbels and composer Roddy Bottum attended the screening and subsequent Q&A.


The film opens in 11 cities March 31 and goes wider from there. Palm Springs should see the movie open (probably at Camelot) within the first couple weeks.

When asked about the film’s budget, Craig Chester replied that it was about the same as the chips & salsa budget for King Kong.

Ever wondered what kind of girl the off-the-wall Chris Kattan dates? He showed up with his very cute medium-blonde girlfriend Sunshine who seemed very down-to-earth and normal. Chester took a moment on stage to point her out and tell us how wonderful they all think she is. It was cute.

Malcolm Gets comes from a dance background. He has danced with The Rockettes and A Chorus Line and “all that stuff.”

The film closes with John Lennon’s “Love” which would normally run you about $200,000, but because Yoko Ono is such a big fan of the gay community and a supporter of gay marriage she let them have it for the bargain price of only $5,000.

Courtney Love performs Bottum’s "Love, Love, Love" as a favor.

-- Julie Varnau

Rize on demand
January 13, 11:55 a.m.
I might be crazy but I believe you can already watch RIZE through On Demand if you have digital cable.
-- Julie Varnau

RIZE delivers
January 13, 11:10 a.m.
"If there were arts and music programs in the inner city [schools], I truly believe that there would be another renaissance." - David LaChapelle, director, 'RIZE'

LaChapelle is one of the preeminent photographers in the world, voted among the top ten most influential people in photography by American Photo. His first job was given to him by Andy Warhol, shooting for Interview magazine. He has directed music videos for some of the biggest acts this side of the Atlantic. So what's a guy like this to do? Use the cash out of his own pocket to make a film about a new form of dance coming out of the ghettos of L.A. A movie that ends up being shortlisted for the Oscar for Best Documentary.

The director, in his Q & A session on Wednesday night, told the audience how a friend took him into South Central L.A. to show him kids 'krumping' in a strip mall parking lot. LaChapelle decided the artistic experssion of these dancers was destined to be the topic of his first feature film. He then spent the next 3 1/2 years chronicling the dancing that was taking place in the ghettos of L.A.

How to describe krumping? To watch these kids is like watching a primal dance, the movements seem to be a fight both inside onself and against the outside, against the oppression of their world. Dancing is one of the few ways to strike back and overcome what life has handed them. It is also pretty much the only alternative to gang life. In the ghetto, you either 'bang or clown.'

Clowning is reference to Tommy the Clown, 'a ghetto celebrity' that virtually started the movement after the Rodney King Riots. Today, some of his former students have left their teacher and dance on their own. The Great Western Forum hosts The Battlezone where Tommy's Clowns face the Krumpers and battle it out on stage while the audience determines the winner.

The documentary is beautiful and LaChapelle's talents as both a photographer and musical director combine to create an experience for both the eyes and ears. The explosion of movement and sound on screen helps to mask the single down fall of the film, its seemingly disorganization and sometimes lengthy shots that may feel a bit repetitious.

In all, RIZE was fantastic, and one of the best I have seen at the festival thus far. I think more than any other aspect, its ability to portray what life is like in the inner-city is the movie's shining quality. Not every kid on the corner is the stereotypical drug-dealer/gang member, many want to avoid that lifestyle and have found a social network and a creative outlet in dancing. LaChapelle gave the audience a follow-up on a few of the featured dancers. Some have gotten out of South Central, some have not; one was shot, but is now recovering; and one, Miss Prissy, went on tour with Madonna and is now dancing over Hollywood on a 50 foot iTunes billboard.

I could go on writing about the film forever, but to really understand it, you have to see what krumping is. Just click here on the name RIZE to go to the website. Just so you know, LaChapelle put a disclaimer up before the film began, stating that none of the footage had been sped up in any way, that's really how fast they move.

RIZE was released in theaters back in June and will be coming to DVD soon.

While LaChapelle was visiting the theater, I thought I'd take the opportunity to get a quick picture with him to share with all of you. I think its pretty funny that while posing with one of the top photographers in the world, we used my puny camera phone to take the pic. Oh well.

-- Jehan Seirafi

January 12, 09:26 a.m.
The story of troops from 3 sides of WWI (the Scottish, the French, and the Germans) who transition from ferociously standing their ground in the rat invested trenches which surround a corpse-ridden field to establishing a truce for one peaceful night of camaraderie on Christmas Eve.

This movie is a very well-rounded character piece wrapped inside of an epic shell. There were moments that reminded me of the war scenes in Legends of the Fall. Other, more tender moments, reminded me of slivers of Doctor Zhivago. And the undercurrent of battlefield humor is reminiscent of M*A*S*H.

All in all it was a very intriguing story that was – buzz phrase - based on actual events, and executed in an entertaining (and believable) fashion. Considerably well-made with a $22,000,000 dollar budget, the film boasts a very solid cast, spearheaded by Diane Kruger (National Treasure, Troy).

Whether you’re a fan of War movies or just a fan of movies in general, this one’s well worth your time.
-- Christopher Swan

It’s a great weekend for gay film
January 11, 7:55 p.m.
Make that a fabulous weekend. The best gay and lesbian films of the fest are all packed into the final weekend. Here's a quick look (IMDB ratings in parentheses):

The Gay-La screening of ADAM & STEVE Thursday night at Camelot promises to be a lot of fun, although I have to admit I’m not sure how hyped I am on this “over-the-top raunchy romantic comedy” especially as the acting in some of the clips is a little suspect. Hopefully the finished product proves me wrong. At least it has Parker Posey to liven the screen. Her performance has been described as scene-stealing and I don’t doubt it. (7.3)
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 12, Camelot
9 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, Annenberg

Is there really only one lesbian film on the docket this year? No worries, just go see IMAGINE ME & YOU twice. Beautiful people, great acting, witty quips on life and love, probably a little predictable at times – it’s everything a romantic comedy should be. In all fairness, I’ve only seen the trailer but I’m predicting this wonderful little film is going to be (not that there’s much competition) the best lesbian film of all time. Unless she picks the guy in the end. (8.4)
5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13, Camelot (U.S. Premiere)
7:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 15, Camelot

Gay coming-of-age story C.R.A.Z.Y. is getting crazy rave reviews, with audiences coming away calling it the best Canadian film ever. It’s a guaranteed crowd pleaser. Don’t miss it. (8.5)
7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13, Annenberg
1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, Annenberg

John Waters is back in town Friday to present the “sublimely outrageous” FUEGO as part of his new TV series “Films That Will Corrupt You.“ I’m not going to lie, I’m a little bit afraid.
8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13, Camelot

And if that’s not enough John Waters for one weekend, check out THAT MAN: PETER BERLIN, a documentary about the tragicomic life of the "Garbo of male porn stars." Waters is interviewed. (7.6)
8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, Annenberg
3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 15, Camelot

"The extremely private George Michael candidly shares his life and career in this riveting documentary." That’s all you need to hear, no? Saturday is your last chance to see GEORGE MICHAEL: A DIFFERENT STORY this fest.(6.8)
1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, Camelot

Other gay films screening that are NOT getting such fabulous buzz:

Dreamship Surprise - Period 1
It’s a gay sci-fi Star Trek/Wars spoof out of Germany. “Our only hope against total annihilation is the prissy crew of the Dreamship Surprise.” At least it’s late, perhaps a few pre-show cocktails will help. (5.5)
11 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, Camelot
6 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 15, Camelot

Cold Showers
Kid on judo team has girlfriend. New guy joins judo team. Ménage a trois develops. It’s billed as an “erotic and complex” teen love story but it’s not getting the greatest reviews. (6.5)
5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, Regal Palm Springs
8:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 15, Regal Palm Springs

A supermarket worker becomes obsessed with being impregnated by a deceased gay man. Apparently the opening scene sends a lot of people walking for the door – which almost makes me want to see it. But still no. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. (5.5)
9 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, Regal Palm Springs
2:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 15, Regal Palm Springs

-- Julie Varnau

January 11, 7:14 p.m.
It's time again for our annual reminder to all patrons to, well, shut up during the films. The fact that it's a quiet or subtitled scene does NOT mean it's OK to talk -- or even whisper. Really that's the worst time. You're not as quiet as you think. It's distracting and ruins others' enjoyment of the film. The Caché audience, with all that film's silent scenes, has officially captured my award for second rudest PSIFF audience ever. (The 2005 world premiere audience of The Mogul still holds the title for worst ever, as some members were actually yelling at theater workers prior to the screening.)

So one more time, please -- oh please -- be quiet until after the film.
-- Julie Varnau

The Tarts are here!!
January 11, 5:20 p.m.
A few more words on BEOWULF AND GRENDEL. I've gotten quite a few emails concerning my remarks about the movie. According to one of these emails, my blog "created a stir on" (Butler being the lead actor in the film), and I figured public forum would be a much easier response than hitting "reply" over and over again.

The film itself was great, an epic tale superbly reenacted on the screen. It was my comments on the self-named 'Tarts' that apparently caused some rumblings. Those "continual shouts from [director Sturla Gunnarrson's] fan club" that I spoke of, were actually the Tarts, members of the Gerard Butler (Beowulf) fan club. I think the name is a reference to Bulter's Scottish roots, but don't quote me on this one.

These "Gerry's ladies" traveled to Palm Springs from all over California and Arizona to see the U.S. premiere of their leading man's newest flick - I heard there was over 80 of them in town. Many turned out to the Toronto Film Fest back in September to show their support for Butler and to see the world premiere of the movie as well. This is where many met, fell in love with, and "adopted" Sturla Gunnarrson. Email after email I received glowed of this 'humble,' 'kind,' 'modest,' 'personable,' 'generous,' 'approachable' and 'patient' man.

The attention from Butler's fans is what Gunnarrson was referring to when he said that he felt like "Mick Jagger's roadie." But after seeing the movie and the reaction of the audience and the Tarts to Gunnarrson, I'm still going to stand by my statement that the director was the real star on Sunday.

I'm going to tread very lightly on this next point. Many of you wanted to know who the "one exception" was to the "impeccable acting." Now remember this dear reader, us festibloggers have spent many a dark hour in the theater, but I don't think that qualifies us as expert movie critics. Well, maybe with the exception of Christopher. That guy knows more about movies than Roger Ebert himself. So please, please, please don't hang me for these comments, its just my opinion, and really, what do I know. All I'm going to tell you is that the one exception is none of the MALE lead roles. I think that whittles the possibilities down to just about one.

So there you have it.

-- Jehan Seirafi

Good times at Boynton Beach Club
January 10, 11:13 p.m.
It’s only at its second festival and people are already calling BOYNTON BEACH CLUB the next “Sordid Lives” – that is, presuming that it could spark the same level of interest within the valley’s considerable retiree/snowbird community that the latter did in the gay community years ago, and see a similarly lengthy run. So no worries that it doesn’t screen again this fest, look for it in Palm Springs theaters for the next two years! (Maybe.)

The film definitely plays a little better to an older audience but it’s a lot of fun for all ages. (Well maybe 13-plus. Some of the content – brief nudity, sexual innuendo, one pot-smoking scene – is a little racy for young kids.) It’s touching at times but mostly it’s laugh-out-loud funny. As soon as the tears start to well up, director Susan Seidelman brings back the laughs to snap you back into the fun. No dwelling in pity or sorrow here.

Most in the packed full house LOVED it. “Thank you for doing our story” one woman in the rear proclaimed during the Q&A, and many others piled on adulation for both the film and the terrific performances from an accomplished cast. The word genius was used at least once.

Dyan Cannon, Brenda Vaccaro and Michael Nouri were present for the 1 p.m. screening – in fact it was the first time Vaccaro and Nouri had ever seen it on the big screen. Cannon attended the film’s world premiere at the Hamptons International Film Festival in October but said she was still laughing the second time around.

The inspiration for the movie came from Seidelman’s mother, who moved to Boynton Beach, Florida and began sharing all these great stories of her new friends and neighbors who were meeting people and falling in love again in their 50s and 60s. Making it into a film was her mother’s idea. Lucky for her, she has a daughter who’s a filmmaker, Seidelman quipped.

Listen to the entire Q&A
Participating are director Susan Seidelman and actors Dyan Cannon, Brenda Vaccaro and Michael Nouri.
*Short segments have been cut from the session for non-editorial production purposes.

-- Julie Varnau

Review of Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas)
January 10, 10:18 p.m.

I could go into a lengthy discussion about why JOYEUX NOËL (MERRY CHRISTMAS) is an amazing film of heartbreaking anguish while simultaneously being charming and funny, or that the performances, down to the very last soldier, portrayed the bitter pain and horrors of war without so much as needing to speak a word, and on top of it all, that its based on true events of soldiers laying down their guns and celebrating Christmas Eve together during World War I. But no, I'm not going to tell you any of that, only that come Thursday, you need to be playing hookey from work - you're feeling a bit of a cold coming on anyway - and get in line early for the 1:30 showing at the Camelot.

Ok, on to another subject. Its absolutely fantastic that this year's festival attendance is already looking to surpass last year, but along with that comes obviously bigger crowds, and along with those crowds come shorter fuses and more frustrations. Let's all try and help each other out and get ourselves through the rest of the fest in one piece. One way of doing that is by sitting still during all of these movies, especially foreign films with subtitles, so those behind you can enjoy the show as well. I understand that you're probably on your fourth or fifth show of the day by the time I show up after work, and that the theater seats are starting to feel more like baseball bleachers than real chairs, but find a (semi)comfortable spot and stick to it. When you're constanty moving, the person behind you has to keep adjusting to be able to read the words at the bottom of the screen, and then the person behind them has to do the same, then pretty soon the whole crowd starts looking like a giant sea of bobble heads. So everyone just stay put. That especially goes for the man who was sitting about five rows from the back, wearing glasses and a brown Member's Only jacket during JOYEUX NOËL (MERRY CHRISTMAS) along with his wife who kept rustling a plastic bag full of dates. I'll be sure to find a seat away from you two next time.

And as for the rest of you, enjoy your day off on Thursday, I hope you're all feeling much better come Friday, just in time for another marathon weekend of film watching.
-- Jehan Seirafi

All’s fair in love and the queue
January 10, 3:08 p.m.
6:50 p.m. Monday: It’s 40 minutes to showtime and Q tickets for CACHÉ are gone. Things don’t look good, the line is five-wide and stretches all the way to the back of the Camelot Theatres building. A very nice young man with a headset comes to the end of the line, asking the dozen or so passholders who didn’t get a Q (which guarantees a seat) to follow him, they are starting a passholder rush line. Tempers start to flare. Patrons are demanding answers: “Why did they spend $350 if they can’t get into a film after arriving 45 minutes early?!” “How can they let ticket holders in before passholders?!” Several vow that they’ll never buy a pass again.

The answers: Camelot 1 holds 500 seats of which 120 were reserved for passholders. That wasn’t enough. The order of admission will be: Passholders with Q tickets, ticket holders, Passholder rush line, regular rush line. They’re going to do everything they can to get all the passholders in.

6:58 p.m.: Nice man with headset remains calm, manages to get the angry passholders moved back around to the front of the building and start the passholder rush line. There is confusion within the line as to which end is the front but a sort of camaraderie has formed within this group so no one is too concerned about that detail. Most are convinced none of us are getting in.

7:03 p.m.: Several dozen people who’ve been waiting in the regular rush line are told they might as well go home, they won’t be getting in tonight. As more and more passholders continue to arrive, a second passholder rush line forms in the space where the regular rush line once stood. Confusion grows.

7:18 p.m.: A festival worker tells the original passholder rush line we must go to the end of the new line which is now itself a couple dozen strong. Oh HELL no, that wasn’t happening. No one budges. “The man with the headset brought us here.” “We were at the end of the original passholder line.” He walks away, unsure where to proceed but his request has created a sort of panic.

7:20 p.m.: The last of the ticket holders have finally gone in so the line elects a “front” and turns itself around to follow the last of the ticket holders, in effect forcing the theater workers to recognize the correct line order. It seems to work.

7:22 p.m.: The line is moving! They’re letting us in, volunteers counting us off as we pass to determine where to stop the line and re-evaluate open seats. The original line makes it through.

7:30 p.m.: Amazingly enough the screening begins on time and in the end, most of the passholders did get in to see the film.

The great irony in all this is that the film was good enough, definitely entertaining, but worth all the hoopla? Questionable. It played like a typical Hollywood thriller only using interesting not-so-typical-Hollywood cinematic technique so it did stand apart in that regard. Wicked cool opening, I’ll give it that.

The "what just happened?" not-so-clear ending had EVERYONE talking on the way out of the theater, but by that time I just didn't really care whodunit anymore. I found so much of the character development unbelievable that I became emotionally disinvested along the way.

Others around me just seemed frustrated. Most people missed the detail at the end that was really supposed to get them talking in the first place and even after a man (who’d been told by someone who’d already seen it to watch closely in the upper left corner of the screen) explained to everyone around him what he’d seen, still no one understood what it was they were supposed to take away from it.

Everyone seems to come away with a different take which, of course, means you’re just going to have to see for yourself. CACHÉ plays again at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 11 (RUSH only). If you can’t make it then, look for it in arthouse theaters soon.
-- Julie Varnau

January 10, 1:43 p.m.
This one had potential. A lot of potential. In fact, the first 30 minutes were outstanding. Truly reminded me, on a level, of moments in the Henry Fonda classic 12 ANGRY MEN. On point dialogue delivered with superb acting with very crisp editing and impressive cinematography.

And then came the dreaded 2nd Act. It’s always a clutch moment in any film. Usually the make it or break it point. Will the film get better? Will it stall? Will it get lost? Unfortunately, this one did not get better, stalled, and then got lost. And once that happened, it fell apart at the seams and never recovered, at least for me.

I’m firmly convinced the catalyst was when one of the more impressive characters in the film did something that was (a) completely out of character and (b) did it with absolutely NO motivation for doing it. Which made her decision unbelievable, literally. We’re not talking about unrealistic. Most characters in most films do things that are unrealistic. But there’s a big difference between unrealistic and unbelievable. When a story is well written, and the director and actors do their job, it’s believable. In this case, the believability was shattered, at least for me, when the character acted completely without motivation.

The other contributing factor to my dislike of the film’s 2nd and 3rd Acts were this: it’s OK to tangle an audience up into a confusing plot. Just make sure you untangle them before they leave. Otherwise, you run the risk of them scratching their heads as they walk out of the theater. Why? Because elements of the plot that should’ve been crystal clear in order to have the appropriate dramatic effect are drowning in ambiguity. This is exactly what I experienced as I walked back to the car grumbling to myself about how something that started so good could have gone so awry.

Then I started thinking about what could have been done to remedy, what I thought, were the film’s weaknesses so that it would retain its drive and believability. And, in the spirit of not just critiquing the film, but also offering possible solutions, here’s what I came up with.


(1) Cut (a) the sexual encounter between Nieves and Fernando and (b) Fernando “relieving” himself. Not only would those cuts shave time off of the lunch break, which did drag, but the whole Nieves/Fernando encounter simply didn’t work for me. It isn’t believable that Nieves, as her character was set up in the film, would betray Carlos with Fernando in a 5-minute lunchtime tryst in the restroom directly across the hall from Carlos. Just show Carlos and Fernando having their shirts exchanged while they’re in separate restrooms (that part was both hilarious and believable). Nothing will be lost in the plot of the movie and you’ll retain the credibility of Nieves’ (a) motivation and (b) decision making capability, both of which were brilliantly set up in the 1st Act. Fernando’s reactions in the ensuing scenes would all still be viable because of his innate competitiveness.

(2) Film a small pickup scene that has Carlos actually walking back into the office from the elevator after leaving Nieves downstairs. Have Carlos actually being told he got the job from the receptionist. You wouldn’t even need to show the receptionist again, just have her voice-over the words while the camera is on Carlos. Have the receptionist also tell him to ‘wait right there’ while she goes to get something, someone, whatever. Then, while Carlos is waiting, have him walk over to the window and stare down at Nieves who’s walking away, alone, in the street, just like she is in the film now. That’s a powerful moment. The way it is now is very ambiguous and I don’t think the ambiguity serves this film well. Some films it does, but not this one. The reason it’s ambiguous is because, technically, Carlos “lost” the job by not breaking Nieves down, and Nieves “won” the job when she got Carlos to leave the room. With the way it is now, with Nieves left outside and Carlos staying in the elevator banging his head against the wall, I wasn’t sure (a) why he was banging his head – was he upset that Nieves fooled him or that he had to leave her for the job – or (b) whether or not he would actually be given the job because he really didn’t “win”.

Again, just suggestions that, I believe, would help the film achieve its full potential. Check it out for yourself. THE GRONHOLM METHOD plays again at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 11 at the Regal 9.
-- Christopher Swan

WHITE COUNTESS - the end of an era
January 10, 09:46 a.m.
I'm a big Ralph Fiennes fan, I've made an effort to see pretty much every film he's done. I even sat through Maid in Manhatten, 2 hours of my life I would make a deal with the devil to get back. I purposely skipped Red Dragon though, I refuse to pay $10 to simply be scared out of my britches, I like to actually enjoy myself for my money. With my admiration of Fiennes, THE WHITE COUNTESS was at the top of my list when the festival line-up came out.

Set in Shanghai on the eve of World War II, an American diplomat (Fiennes) attempts to leave his painful past behind and create a new life inside the walls of his night club. A refugee Russian countess (Natasha Richardson), who works the illicit nightclubs of the city to keep bread on the table of her dead husband's family, attracts the attention of the diplomat and joins the nightclub as it's enchanting hostess. The relationship between the two is a curious one, complicated by the American's loss of faith in people and the world they live in, in part due to an accident that cost him his sight and much more.

As a film-goer, one couldn't ask for much more. With a cast that includes Fiennes, Richardson, her mother Vanessa Redgrave, and aunt Lynn Redgrave, the acting was nothing less than impeccable (and quite the family affair). The same can be said for the script, written by Kazuo Ishiguro, the author of the original novel The Remains of the Day. The truly unbeliveable thing about this film is that it is an adult drama, set against a backdrop of impending war, and its rated PG-13. The rating simply tells you the level of class and intelligence the film makers have brought to the screen.

Unfortuately, this is the last movie that will come from Merchant-Ivory productions, a partnership (of director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant) that began back in 1957, and included the film version of The Remains of the Day and A Room with a View. Merchant passed away in May of this past year. The White Countess, according to critic Bob Mondello, is "a fittingly literate end to the Merchant-Ivory partnership."

THE WHITE COUNTESS opened in L.A. and New York in December. If you missed your chance at the fest, you'll get a second opportunity starting January 27, when it begins playing at Cinémas Palme d'Or in Palm Desert.

-- Jehan Seirafi

'Simon' wins me over
January 09, 5:22 p.m.
I wasn’t completely sold on this film going in, but I trusted the rave reviews and gave it a shot. Happy surprise: SIMON is fantastic. It’s a familiar story but the script comes across fresh with an incredible emotional honesty and charmingly human characters.

There were superb performances all around but Cees Geel as Simon, with that infectious laugh and boyish grin, carries off the remarkable feat of making you like a man who otherwise might be seen as an overbearing, immature, PC-challenged cad of a drug dealer.

While it’s told from the vantage of the gay friend in the story, it’s not a very gay film. The nudity is almost (if not entirely) all women and the sex (even the one time the gay man has it onscreen) is male-female. Still, it plays well to a gay audience.

While some of the humor up front seems to be lost a little in translation, the film's ultimately moving story of friendship, love and the modern family shines through.

Murmurs of approval erupted around the theater following a surprisingly abrupt ending – except from the two elderly gentlemen sitting next to me who absolutely hated every single thing about it. I had to laugh a little because they seemed to be on the curmudgeonly side from the outset, grumbling when it started one minute late, grumbling that there wasn’t more information on the sponsor ads flashing on the screen prior to the show...

The one problem that had everyone grumbling was the mid-showing projector shift which dropped the lower half of the film – including the subtitles – below the screen, leaving us to watch the upper half in Dutch for five minutes. It’s things like this that will make you long for the good ol’ days when they had an actual person up in the projection booth.

Simon plays again at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Regal Palm Springs.
-- Julie Varnau

BEOWULF director is quite the ladies man
January 09, 10:38 a.m.
Ok, I'm going to come clean and admit that I don't think I ever read the epic poem of BEOWULF AND GRENDEL in high school. What most likely happened is that I picked up the Cliff Notes version and screeched by on the test. I sincerely regret that now after seeing the Sunday screening of Sturla Gunnarsson's interpretation.

Creating a mortal world in which mythological creatures exist and getting the audience to accept it is no small feat, but Gunnarsson achieves it amazingly and beautifully. The epic came alive against the backdrop of Iceland; the landscape alone was worth the 2 hours spent in the theater. Gunnarrson described the land as "another character in the film, both in what it demanded of [the cast and crew] and what it gave back."

Yes, Gunnarrson did show up to The Annenberg on Sunday, and along with him came a sea of devoted female fans. It seemed as if Hollywood had descended onto the Desert Museum; there were camera flashes, autograph signing, and plenty of screaming from the audience. In between the continual shouts from his fan club, Gunnarsson said he felt like Mick Jagger's roadie - with his celebrity, he seemed more on par with Jagger hiself.

BEOWULF AND GRENDEL was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon - hiding away in a dark theater, nursing a bit of a hangover from the post-awards Parker party the night before. It was a movie that achieved all elements, it was visually captivating, the acting (with one exception) was impeccable, and the writing kept the audience delicately balanced on a thin line between laughter and tears.

Although this weekend was the last viewing, the director said he hopes to release the film on DVD. For those of you who missed it, not to mention all of us who skipped reading the poem back in high school, let's hope he does.

-- Jehan Seirafi

Review of ZIZEK!
January 09, 04:25 a.m.
This documentary was a truly awesome sojourn into the radical mind of Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek. Unquestionably one of the more entertaining documentaries I’ve seen, most of the humor is due directly to the self-deprecating mockery of the English-speaking thinker it studies. Frighteningly candid (aren’t all philosophers?) in his view of himself, others, the world, and the identities we’ve all created to live with each other, I truly believed that HE believed everything he said in the film, good, bad, or ugly.

There’s good reason that Zizek attracts so much attention. From what I could tell, his views are fairly unorthodox to many in the academic world. And throughout the film he battles the demons of academia, real or perceived, whom are constantly doing their best to pigeon-hole him into one dogmatic school of thought or another. And in nearly every instance, he wins with one cerebral arrow or another, delivering the shots either from a sidewalk while evading the fans he loves to hate, the back of a cab while over-tipping the driver, or from under the covers of his own bed while laying there shirtless in the plush sheets like the rock-star of philosophy that he is.

In one of the more intimate moments of the movie, he plays with his young son, whom I’m guessing is around 4 or 5 yrs. old. Everyone in the theater burst out laughing (one of many, many times) when, while queuing up a movie for the boy, Zizek declares that the youngster’s “narcissistically” enjoying himself.

By the end of the fairly short documentary (81 minutes), you’ve been challenged mentally, and, whether or not you agree, in part or in whole, with Zizek’s declarations, you appreciate his flowing passion and his rapier intellect. This is definitely one of those documentaries that I’ll look to rent or own when it (fingers crossed) comes out on DVD.

In the meantime, I’m gonna pick up one or two of Zizek’s books to keep me busy.

Unfortunately ZIZEK! is not playing again during the festival.
-- Christopher Swan

Salton Sea documentary fires up local audience
January 09, 00:32 a.m.
Sunday evening filmgoers were treated to a visit from Congresswoman Mary Bono who participated in a Q&A along with filmmaker Chris Metzler following the screening of PLAGUES AND PLEASURES ON THE SALTON SEA at Annenberg Theater.

First, the film. Having ventured out to the eerily abandoned Salton Sea shortly after I moved to Palm Springs – it’s the wallpaper on my cell phone no less – the most fascinating part of the film for me was the footage of the Sea in its heyday. Who would have thought that a just few short decades ago, it really was a swinging waterfront escape.

The interviews with the characters who now inhabit the sad remains of the once-great seaside resort vision were entertaining and at times their unusual perspectives enlightening, though at points I thought the joke’s-on-them, mocking the “town fool” technique was carried too far.

On the whole, the documentary is very interesting and well worth watching – particularly for Southern California residents. It plays again at noon on Thursday, Jan. 12 (RUSH only).

If you can’t make it then, look for local screenings in the near future or on public broadcasting stations out of Palm Springs, Los Angeles and San Diego, Metzler said during the post-screening Q&A.

The audience was keenly interested in the discussion and had so many questions for the panel that theater ushers and festival programming director Carl Spence had a difficult time clearing the auditorium, leaving ticketholders awaiting “The Hidden Blade” at 8 p.m. to stand out in the 68-degree cold night until about 15 or 20 minutes before showtime.

Bono is very optimistic about the Salton Sea Authority’s proposed plan and defended the work that is already being done in D.C. and Sacramento, gently adding that she was “a little disturbed by the cynicism of the film.”

Getting that plan into action was pretty much the theme of the night – from the film, its subjects, the panel members and audience alike. And audience members were asking for ways area residents could do something or raise money NOW or at least take tours from the valley down to see and learn about the Salton Sea (which someone mentioned may already be available through the Anza Borrego Interpretive Center.)

Listen to the entire Q&A*
Participating are producer and co-director Chris Metzler, Salton Sea activist and resident Norm Niver, Congresswoman Mary Bono and Ron Enzweiler, executive director of the Salton Sea Authority.
*Two short segments have been cut from the session for non-editorial production purposes.
-- Julie Varnau

When a sellout isn't a sellout
January 08, 11:01 a.m.
Don't let all the "sold out" shows scare you away. In most cases you will still be able to get into the screening through the rush line and this year, rush seating doesn't appear to mean hunting for that one straggling seat between two strangers in the very front row.

My guess: Festival organizers took passholder complaints to heart last year and are reserving more seats for them from the outset.
-- Julie Varnau

All the beautiful people...
January 08, 04:34 a.m.
...were at the private black tie gala after party at The Parker late Saturday night. Gorgeous gowns, gorgeous people -- and I'm not even talking about the stars.

I may in fact be the world's WORST celebrity spotter however I did manage to catch Jake Gyllenhaal, donning a grey hooded sweatshirt (hood up), and a mustached Viggo Mortensen.

The party itself was roped off inside the grounds but throughout the night the crowd spilled over into the firepit in the main bar lounge area. The music was of the uber-retro, I mean the totally old-school, flashback "OMG I forgot this song existed" variety (oh yeah, some people were jammin') but apparently it was a little too loud because around 1 a.m. or so three of our city's finest showed up to quiet things down a bit.

By 2 a.m. most people had gone home for the night or split off into smaller groups to head to after-after parties elsewhere, but a faithful few remained talking late into the night by the fire and at the bar.

As I have been laughing the night away at these parties, I will succinctly say that QUEENS was quite good. Its billed description -- five headstrong mothers cope with the impending marriages of their gay sons -- makes it sound a bit serious and its trailer makes it look a bit slapstick, but it was actually truly refreshingly funny.

Queens plays again at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 10 at Annenberg. Definite gay crowd pleaser.
-- Julie Varnau

Three Times the reward
January 07, 6:45 p.m.
THREE TIMES is exactly that, a movie that takes place three times. In the tradition of his multi-layered movie making, director Hsiao-hsien Hou has created a film that follows two lovers, played adeptly by the same actors, in three completely different times and stories.

The first segment is 'a time for love.' 1966 Taiwan is the setting for a romance of innocence and hope where the mere holding of hands is enough to make the audience's heart leap. In the second act, 1911 is a 'time for freedom,' and Hou brings the viewer into the period by withdrawing language. The second segment is performed as an old silent movie with the dialogue spliced onto the screen. Present day is 'a time for youth.' Cell-phones, computers, and cameras seem to be the only way the characters are able to communicate with each other.

Communication and language are the underlying elements that interweave these three seemingly disconnected acts. Audiences may be struck by the lack of dialogue in the first segment, the silence of the second, and the reliance on technology to communicate in the third. American audiences are trained to expect 120 minutes of blockbuster action, to us this quiet film may feel slow and a bit dull. It takes a while to acclimate to the pace of each act, but if you wait it out, you'll be rewarded three times over.

THREE TIMES plays again at the Regal Palm Springs 9 on Monday, Jan.9 at 7:30.
-- Jehan Seirafi

January 07, 1:51 p.m.
3 words. Tour. De. Force. I've always held off on using that phrase because it's about as abused as the word 'genius'. In fact I’ve never labeled a film I’ve reviewed as a ‘tour de force’. But this film is deserving. In fact, it’s a genius tour de force. It's easily one of the more powerful films I’ve ever seen. Period. Blew me away. Everything. The acting. The cinematography. The score. The CG (yes, even that was on point for a foreign film). And then, of course, there was the story.

From the top, I was wrong in my understanding of location. It wasn’t post-WWII Japan, it was post-WWII Korea’s Osaka ghetto. And it wasn’t a struggle for power in terms of organized crime or anything of that fashion. It was a struggle for power within a family. A struggle that pitted a wife, many sons, and many daughters against the single most haunting man I’ve ever seen portrayed on film. And I mean that. Had this been an organized crime story, I’d be rambling on about how this character would have eaten Don Corleone alive. He makes Ben Kingsley’s Don Logan (Sexy Beast) look weak. And that’s sayin’ something. Something fierce.

Kitano "Beat" Takeshi plays Shunpei Kim, a brutal bull of a human being. A man bent on attaining, and then retaining, respect and power within his own community and his own home. He does this through unimaginable methods. Methods I won’t mention here for they are original and seeing them on film for the first time is where the power comes from. And I’m not going to trump that powerful of an experience simply for my own ego as a writer.

I will issue this though. This film is not for the weak of stomach or the faint of heart. It is raw. It a lesson in brutality. In self-serving rage. In using physical and emotional abuse to demand that which should be earned. By the second scene of the movie, I was exposed to the most graphic and haunting rape scene I’ve ever witnessed in a movie. A scene that surely holds its own against Jodie Foster’s in The Accused. And that was only the beginning. Again, this is not a popcorn flick. This is more of a life experience. And if you’re not up for that, don’t go. But if you are, you won’t regret it. Not for a minute. Because you will learn from the film, even if it’s what not to do.

Perhaps it’s because of the acting masterclass put on by Takeshi, but his character draws you in. In some weird way, you feel his pain. You feel the pain of his family more, yes, but in his pain there are two things that connect with us all. First, his entrepreneurial ability to build a fortune out of absolutely nothing. And second, his desire to succeed. But it is his persistence to stop at nothing and his tactics to maintain control that finally separate him from us. From very early on in the movie, you, the audience, are as terrified of him as the family is. And when he walks into a scene, you hold your breath hoping he will not hear you. Hoping that he will not see you. Because you are scared. Scared down to your BLOOD AND BONES of what he’s going to do.

And when the credits do finally role you are, simultaneously, truly relieved and truly appreciative of the cinematic effort you just witnessed.

Blood and Bones screens again at 1:45 p.m. Sunday, Regal Palm Springs.

-- Christopher Swan

Sell-out city
January 07, 09:40 a.m.
Prediction: PARADISE NOW is one of the films everyone’s going to be talking about this fest. Its lone screening (at 4:15 p.m. today) is already sold out, but it is a gorgeous day to stand in the rush line. Passholders get there early!

Speaking of which, I think we’re going to need some larger theaters. Afternoon and evening films have been selling out like crazy. Including Sophie Scholl, so disregard that link below and good luck in the rush line. :)
-- Julie Varnau

Sophie Scholl delivers
January 06, 11:15 p.m.
I’m always a sucker for a tear-jerker, but I wasn’t alone tonight. There weren’t many dry eyes in the mostly-full Palm Springs High theater by the end of SOPHIE SCHOLL - THE FINAL DAYS. The film – which won the German audience award for best film of 2005 – felt a little slow and maybe the slightest bit forced in spots, but overall it was beautifully crafted and Julia Jentsch is, indeed, brilliant in the lead role.

It plays again at 1 p.m. Sunday, January 15 at Camelot Theatres and tickets are still available. Highly recommended.
-- Julie Varnau

Don't miss your chance with Keanu
January 06, 4:02 p.m.
Are you still debating getting off the couch and heading out to catch a film at the festival? Maybe you're thinking that you don't want to deal with the crowds, or bother reading the subtitles of a foreign flick, or even bundling up to weather the bone chilling 68 degrees outside. Well I've got a little incentive for you. . .

If ever there was the chance to see some top notch celebrities, this weekend is it. Saturday night at the Convention Center the red carpet will be rolled out for the Black Tie Gala Awards. Honorees include Jake Gyllenhaal, Felicity Huffman, Terence Howard, Shirley MacClaine, and Keanu Reeves presenting an award to Charlize Theron.

Have I got your attention?!?!
Guys - Charlize Theron, enough said.
Ladies - Gyllenhaal, Howard, and Reeves - do you really need any more reason to get up and get yourselves all dolled up?

And with all the celebs milling about town this weekend, you may just catch one standing in line at the local Starbucks, grabbing a bite to eat around the corner, or sitting next to you in the theater during one of those foreign films you didn't feel like reading your way through.

-- Jehan Seirafi

Movies: The NEW universal language
January 06, 3:17 p.m.
A long time ago, I mean a LONG time ago, like, before DVD’s, Math reigned supreme as the one and only universal language. Mr. Big Stuff. Big Man on Campus. But times have changed ol’ boy. It’s all about the movies now. It’s alright. I’m pretty sure people will always remember “square root”. And, regrettably “pi”. And maybe, just maybe, in the heart of darkness known as the college math lab, I’m sure the rebellion has already started on the lips of Trigonometry students.

But for everyone else, the silver screen is the classroom, and the language used in that classroom is Movies. And it’s no wonder. They’re becoming more and more integral to our lives. We learn in ‘em. We travel in ‘em. We live in ‘em. We love in ‘em. We are utterly obsessed with ‘em. OK, maybe that last one’s just me, but the point is still the same: movies are becoming far more than just the predominant form of entertainment.

Filmgoers in Palm Springs can learn about what life is like in an African tribe (MASAI-THE RAIN WARRIORS). Tribes in Africa can learn how corrupt American business can be (ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM). Employees at Enron can learn about honor and courage in Iraq (OCCUPATION: DREAMLAND). Troops in Fallujah can learn about being a burned out taxi driver in Peru (DAYS OF SANTIAGO). Merchants in Peru can laugh at office workers in Spain (THE GRONHOLM METHOD). Spanish office workers can learn what it was like to celebrate the holidays on the Western Front of WWI (MERRY CHRISTMAS). And even though those soldiers are long gone, if they could, I know they’d want to find out about the infamous Slovenian philosopher (ZIZEK!). And he, of course, would already know all about the struggle for power in post-WW II Japan (BLOOD AND BONES).

And how’s this all possible. By people all over the world using math? Nope. By people all over the world speaking Movies, the NEW universal language.
-- Christopher Swan

New World is flat?
January 06, 10:08 a.m.
I didn't attend last night's opening screening – what can I say, Pocahontas tales rub me the wrong way – but word on the streets of Palm Springs has not been kind to “The New World.” Despite predominantly glowing reviews in the media, the next day buzz here is largely that the film fell flat. (Were you there? Give us your take in Movie Talk)

It couldn’t have helped that New Line didn’t put the full weight of the film’s starpower behind it. I’d wager they could have significantly upped their audience rating if they had gotten Colin Farrell and Christian Bale to show. At the box office and around the water cooler, it’s all about perception and as it was, I’m hearing that the celeb-factor on the red carpet was, well, a little lackluster.

-- Julie Varnau

This just in...
January 05, 3:15 p.m.
There's new incentive to catch the 1 p.m. screening of BOYNTON BEACH CLUB on Tuesday, Jan. 10 at Camelot. Actors Dyan Cannon, Sally Kellerman, Brenda Vaccaro and Michael Nouri are confirmed to attend the post-film Q&A, along with director Susan Seidelman.

-- Julie Varnau

Some advice for newbies ... and the veterans
January 05, 11:56 a.m.
Being a desert native, suprisingly I'm a newcomer to the film festival. This will be my first year ever attending, so for those of you who are as well, keep reading, I think we're in for a wild ride.

I've tried to get some advice from the veterans of the bunch, those who have previously navigated the sea of film-goers, celebrity-watchers, and not to mention the lines to the theater, the concession stands, and the bathrooms. What I've come up with so far is every man for himself. So, in light of that, what I'm promising to you is to pass on those little gems of insider tips that I pick up along the way.

I'll be attending at least one film everyday as well as eavesdropping in on others around the Desert Sun newsroom who are covering the festival as well. Between all of us I think we can come up with some great advice, reviews of movies, suggestions for upcoming flicks, and any of the celebrity lowdown that we may come across.

So down to the nitty-gritty - which films to watch. With over 200 to choose from, trying to pick one may just give you a very unnecessary headache. There are a few playing on Friday that really caught my eye, so here are my suggestions:

The account of Belgium's invasion of the Congo and the subsequent slavery and tyrannical rule that ensued in King Leopold's Ghost.

The portrayal of nearly 400 murdered women in Juarez, Mexico over the past decade in The Virgin of Juarez.

I'll be checking out One Night, a movie addressing gender perceptions in Iran, all while inside a car, which becomes symbolic of the culture and society.

The films that have seem to really struck me in this line-up are the ones coming out of Arab countries. As the political and cultural dynamics are continually changing in the Middle East, the movies that emerge are bound to be an extension of the thoughts and emotions of those native to the region.
You'll also see on my list the requisite romantic comedies, and plenty of documentaries and features that address current and historical social issues.

Keep checking back daily, my friends and I here at the Sun will keep you filled in to the daily happenings as well as prepping you for the madness (and fun) that is to come.

-- Jehan Seirafi

Watching the films is half the fun
January 05, 01:27 a.m.
The minute-to-minute details and happenings of the film festival itself are the other half...

Stuff like listening in on the buzz of which films are hot while you’re freezing in line because it’s a bone-chilling 70 degrees outside. Getting stiff-armed in the lobby for the last film festival hat. Buying a $4 movie-theater cappuccino with foam as thick as the facial hair of 15-year-old who made it. The mad dash for the theater itself and pretending not to care about what seat you get. Then, once inside, acting like a 7-year-old at a slumber party fighting for the last good seat in front of the TV. Listening to brazen audience members yell at the festival workers because the film’s 47 seconds late. The rolling of the actual film, during which at least half a dozen people will inevitably storm out ranting about the gratuitous sex, mindless gore, the liberal agenda, the conservative undercurrent, how the subtitles are too small, how the sound was too muffled, or, my personal favorite, that they need to go get in line for the next movie on their list. And then, of course, the inevitable debacle of the film’s voting slip. Do we tear above the line? Below the line? In the middle of the line. Fugitaboutit, just smear the line with popcorn butter or a stick of red licorice and smile as you head to the next film.

First up for me is BLOOD AND BONES. As if winning the Japanese Academy Awards for best director, best actress and best supporting actor aren’t enough, the plot itself sounds like Wall Street meets Empire of the Sun. ‘Nuf said
-- Christopher Swan

I love January in the desert
January 05, 01:15 a.m.
Our relaxing little oasis comes alive in January with the energy and buzz of full hotels, crowded bars and more things to do than time to enjoy them. And the weather! The forecast for today's festival opening: 81 degrees and sunny with a similar outlook for the week ahead.

If you can tear yourself away from the chaise lounge by the pool, Friday presents its usual problem of too many great films to choose from. I am most looking forward to SOPHIE SCHOLL - THE FINAL DAYS. I was in D.C. last year on business and we had one afternoon free so I went to the Holocaust Museum. I was so struck by Sophie Scholl, of all the powerful displays at the museum, her story was one of the most moving for me and by all accounts this film does it great justice.

Otherwise I'd catch the epic BEOWULF & GRENDEL which is getting phenomenal reviews out of the Toronto International Film Festival or one of the can't-miss, getting-tons-of-buzz documentaries: AFTER INNOCENCE, about the disturbing number and effects of wrongful convictions in the American justice system later overturned by DNA evidence or THE BOYS OF BARAKA about at-risk inner-city boys from Baltimore being sent to a boarding school in Kenya.

For anyone looking for a sure-fire bet in a more mainstream drama for the family, I recommend the lovely MRS. PALFREY AT THE CLAREMONT.

We'll be with you throughout the fest, sharing our picks, our thoughts on the films, the people, the scene and (we hope) bits of juicy gossip among other things.

For those of you playing along with our must-see picks, you should know that I have a strong preference for romantic comedies, documentaries and dramas based on true stories. My picks tend to be girly, gay-themed or works of social conscience.

Among my favorite mainstream films from the past year: Crash, Shop Girl, Brokeback Mountain

My 2005 fest faves: The Thing About My Folks, The Chorus, Dirt, Born Into Brothels, The Woodsman

My 2004 fest faves: Bed and Breakfast, See You Off to the Edge of Town, Go Further, Kitchen Stories, Capturing the Friedmans

See you on the red carpet tonight!
-- Julie Varnau

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