Taste Test

Week 2 of the 48th San Francisco International Film Festival

Murderball

(U.S., 2004)

Don't call quad rugby by its old nickname, the title of this movie -- but know that the term vividly describes what these bad motherfuckers do in their armored Mad Max wheelchairs. Mike Zupan, a star athlete who lost the use of his legs in a high school truck accident, leads Team U.S.A. Joe Soares, a granite-jawed tough guy used to fighting schoolmates who taunted him for his childhood polio, has been cut from the team, and despite jeers of "Benedict Arnold," crosses the border to coach the Canadian crew, with the sole aim of kicking his former (undefeated) team's ass at the Athens Paralympics. There's plenty of psychodrama in these profiles of men who have traded legs for wheels but who haven't given up their physical prowess and killer competitive instincts. The "ass-level" wheelchair camera vantage point is terrific for depicting furious clashes and stopwatch suspense, and the emotional impact of losing mobility in one's youth is never milked for pity -- rather, you wonder if these guys would be half as interesting if they could walk the earth. (Frako Loden)
Thursday, April 28, 7:30 p.m., Kanbar Hall (S.F. Jewish Community Center, 3200 California at Presidio); Friday, April 29, 7 p.m., AMC Kabuki

The Hero
The Hero
Izo
Izo
Life in a Box
Life in a Box
Murderball
Murderball
Phil the Alien
Phil the Alien
The Real Dirt on Farmer John
The Real Dirt on Farmer John
Yes
Yes

Details

Through May 5

(925) 866-9559

www.sffs.org

Screenings take place at the AMC Kabuki 8 Theater (1881 Post at Fillmore); the Castro Theatre (429 Castro near Market); the Pacific Film Archive (2575 Bancroft at Bowditch, UC Berkeley campus); and the Aquarius Theatre (430 Emerson at University, Palo Alto)

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Phil the Alien

(Canada, 2004)

The deadpan sensibility favored by Canadian comedies is typically too chilly and bloodless for mainstream American audiences, who prefer pratfalls to pinched faces. But in this hoot destined for cult fandom, writer/director/star Rob Stefaniuk marries the intelligent absurdity of SCTV with plenty of pulp shenanigans. Abetted by a slew of swell comic turns and a stellar sound design that drives home every punch and shot, Stefaniuk puts over his nonsensical but oddly touching tale of a hapless alien who discovers whiskey and Jesus while being pursued by equally hapless U.S. agents. A good-natured sendup of (among other things) Canucks' affinity for alcohol, Phil would nonetheless benefit from viewers partaking of a drink or two before the lights go down. (Michael Fox)
Friday, April 29, midnight, AMC Kabuki; Monday, May 2, 1:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki

The Real Dirt on Farmer John

(U.S./Mexico, 2005)

Local filmmaker Taggart Siegel befriended Illinois farmer John Peterson 25 years ago, and in some ways he's been making this engaging but uneven doc ever since. Peterson winningly tells his own story of growing up on the family farm, taking it on after his father's premature death and tilting it briefly toward communalism with the big-city friends he made at a nearby college in the '60s. A candid portrait of self-reliance and guilt -- Peterson, like thousands of small farmers, gets whipsawed by low prices and high interest rates in the late '70s and the family legacy is shattered -- character and reinvention, Dirt astutely avoids cheerleading and sentimentality. That is, until the home stretch, when the drama evaporates, the pacing falters, and the film flattens out. (Michael Fox)
Monday, May 2, 9:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Wednesday, May 4, 1 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Yes

(England, 2004)

Sally Potter (Orlando) directs an incandescent Joan Allen, this year's Peter J. Owens Award winner, in a globe-hopping romance between an Irish-American molecular biologist (Allen) and a Lebanese surgeon turned sous-chef (stage actor Simon Abkarian), whose humoring of her during her husband's (Sam Neill) dull dinner party blossoms into an adulterous liaison. The lovers become each other's "secret country," stealing embraces in hotel rooms and orgasms under cafe tables, until their relationship disintegrates in a moment of cultural misunderstanding. Potentially off-putting devices -- such as the maid's direct-camera-address, one-woman Greek chorus on germs and heartbreak, and the delivery of most of the dialogue in rhyming couplets -- instead enhance this lovely yet unsparing examination of two people from very different backgrounds shedding the dead skins of their past in a wary post-9/11 world. The woman's visit to her aunt's (Sheila Hancock) deathbed is a transcendent moment, recapturing the tearful joy of Molly Bloom's "yes" soliloquy and evoking a female Ulysses. (Frako Loden)
Friday, April 29, 7:30 p.m., Castro

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