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The Movies at the San Diego International Film Festival

Tonight’s the night the San Diego International Film Festival starts. I talked about the parties and events going on, but what makes film festivals are the films. In the past, SDIFF has brought in movies that go on to win loads of Oscars. Other times they’ve had movies I loved, that never ended up being shown anywhere else in San Diego. You often get interesting Q&As with directors and actors. Of course, I like those more when I’m moderating a panel (especially when I got to interview acting/comedy legend Kevin Pollak).

Tonight the festivities start off with Marshall. It’s the story of the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall. He’s being played by Chadwick Boseman, who we loved playing other real life folks — James Brown, Jackie Robinson, Ernie Davis, and Black Panther (okay, that last one isn’t a real life character, except to the fanboys at Comic Con). The cast also includes Josh Gad, Sterling K. Brown, and Kate Hudson. And as you may have seen in the Union-Tribune yesterday, a few local woman (hi Annette Andersen Caton), helped get this film made. I’m thrilled they got this film to the festival.

Here’s a list of the other movies you’ll get to see.

20 WEEKS — This movie reminded me of What Maise Knew (Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgard). That movie dealt with a couple getting a divorce and fighting over their child. 20 Weeks is about a young couple dealing with a pregnancy. Amir Arison (The Blacklist) and Anna Margaret Hollyman (who is prettier than Ann-Margret, and reminds me of Kate Winslet) have this natural acting ability that makes you think they’re a real couple you’ve met at a dinner party. There were so many moments of this movie I loved, that a big studio would’ve totally ruined. For example, when the guy says things that are snotty or a bit selfish, they’re not completely over-the-top. They’re just insensitive, and it makes you wonder if this woman woman is making the right choice staying with him. Early on, they jump around with the timeline. That was confusing at first, but once you realize they’re doing it, you’re hooked watching every scenario. It was also nice seeing character actor Richard Riehle. You’ve seen him in hundreds of TV shows and movies (Glory, Fried Green Tomatoes, The Fugitive, Free Willy, Casino, and he was the “jumping to conclusions” creator of Office Space).

The movie’s also really thought provoking, as the couple contemplate an abortion. My wife and I loved how they dealt with what the couple decided to do. It’s rare that a movie ends with you feeling as satisfied as you do watching this.

One character has a sticker on her computer that says “It’s not easy being bored.” Well, you won’t be bored watching this. You can trust Josh Board on that.

ENTANGLEMENT — This movie opens with a guy that tries to kill himself and doesn’t succeed. It’s hard to explain why that’s funny. You’ll have to see the movie for yourself. From that opening scene on, my wife and I never stopped laughing.

Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley) is Ben, the sad sack that you can’t stop rooting for. That’s because he’s not always feeling sorry for himself. His wife has left him, but he still has a great friendship with his neighbor Tabby (Diana Bang of Bates Motel and The Interview). They have a great chemistry and humorous repertoire with each other. Since he’s so upset his wife has left him, you want so bad for them to become a couple. Yet when he finds out his parents adopted a girl that they gave back up, he’s convinced his life would be different if he had had that sister. He tracks her down, after a hysterical moment at the adoption agency. She’s played brilliantly by Jess Weixler and they form a relationship that reminded me of Melanie Griffith and Jeff Daniels in Something Wild. You love how she gets him out of his shell and starting to enjoy life again. You also adore how Tabby is concerned about him, or perhaps a tad jealous. There’s not a single moment of this movie I didn’t have a smile on my face, aside from the few times I cried at sad scenarios. Folks, this is what watching a movie should be. I’ve seen almost all the movies that have come out this year, and this one might be the best one yet. It’ll certainly make my Top 10 list at the end of the year.

ROOM FOR RENT — We just had a lottery that was up to almost a billion dollars, so it’s perfect timing to see a film about a high school student that wins $4 million. As the movie opens with him screaming and playing air guitar with the huge check they hand him, you wonder just how badly he’ll handle his finances. Instead of a movie that would be like Richard Pryor blowing money in weird ways in Brewster’s Million, we just see the effects of him having lost it all. He’s living back with his parents, and his room is scattered with weird products he invested in. I so want an evaparella now. It’s an umbrella that stays dry, so you can bring it into the house and not leave it by the front door. A pleasant surprise was seeing the father was played by Mark McKinney. He’s one of the members of The Kids in the Hall, which for my money, is the best comedy troupe of all-time. He’s always stern, as he tells his son to get a job. He’s content to play video games, jigsaw puzzles, and asking his mom (Stephnie Weir of MAD TV) to pick up his dirty dishes from the table. Since McKinney gets laid off, he decides to sell the house. This doesn’t go over well with Mitch (Mark Little), who suggests they rent out a room. Along comes Carl (Brett Gelman). We realize he’s trouble the second he pulls an Eddie Haskell routine with the parents. He reminded me of Chris Elliott, Judd Apatow, and Paul Giamatti all rolled into one. His comedic timing was brilliant, and he’s got a huge career ahead of him.

We end up meeting Mitch’s old girlfriend (Carla Gallo of Neighbors and Superbad). She talks about the many dumb things Mitch did with his money, and it’s fun hearing the stories. I think they’re more humorous hearing about him renting a helicopter and other shenanigans, instead of seeing goofy flashbacks. Carl and Mitch aren’t getting along, until they have a moment like in Step Brothers. They sit down and talk to each other. Carl is afraid of birds, speaks German, and once met Lorenzo Lamas at a taxi stand. That might be the funniest line I’ve heard in a movie all year.

Gallo has terrific facial expressions as she tries dealing with this family, as well as some great lines.

“It’s like a prison in here. And you’re dressed like Shawshank Tim Robbins?”

The writer gives terrific lines to everyone, though. For example, when Carl is finally exposed as a fraud, the mother screams to the crowd at the party, “He lied and tried to turn this family against each other! Aside from that, he was very polite and always cleaned up after himself.”

This is what other filmmakers need to aspire to when tackling comedy.

MANKILLER — Don’t let the title of this documentary fool you. It’s not about murder, but Wilma Mankiller, an advocate for women and Native Americans. We start off hearing President Clinton and Gloria Steinem. Steinem would be featured a lot, and it was so interesting to learn about this amazing woman, who somehow became the Cherokee Nation’s first female principal chief, despite death threats.

It’s interesting to hear about her first marriage, and it makes you wonder about how many other women in the ‘50s and ‘60s had to deal with unruly men but had no options if they left them. Her second marriage, and listening to that courtship, just warms your heart. Never were two people better suited for each other.

Mankiller had to deal with sexism, and she had her fair share of protests. It was a fascinating life to learn about. And remember how inspired we were watching the African-American women working for NASA in Hidden Figures? This is just as inspiring.

It’s the third film I’ve seen this year dealing with Native Americans; there was the powerful Wind River (Jeremy Renner), the documentary Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, and now this documentary.  I hit the trifecta! For a movie critic that sees a lot of bad movies…that’s refreshing.

I’ve been going to this film festival for well over 10 years, and I’ve never been disappointed in the “shorts.” I’ve only seen a handful of them so far.

PICTURE WHEEL — At first you’re wondering why these people all walk around with metal rings around their head, with various pictures of couples being affectionate. When a guy is at his cubicle and a cute co-worker comes over to talk to him, you start to realize what’s going on. This is all the baggage of a past relationship. The film edits are terrific, the story is cute, and you’ll never look at a panhandler the same again. My wife and I even dug the song and illustrations in the closing credits.

EXPIRED — This was a cute, and very short “short.” A woman takes a guy to bed that she’s just met. She ends up having a conversation with an expired condom she pulls out of a bathroom medicine cabinet. This was part of the “48 Hour Film Project,” and it was solid.

ANNIE WATTS — This deals with a woman going through a series of relationships. This is the type of premise you’ve seen before, but it’s a fresh take here. She narrates about hearing the “greatest hits” from the person you start dating. You see a series of guys, and how the relationships evolve into watching Game of Thrones on the couch, and trying to spice up your sex life (my wife and I laughed out loud when they did dress-up as a lifeguard; another involved a lucha libre style face paint). The final punchline knocked my socks off.

THE OBITUARY — this reminded me a bit of The Messenger (Woody Harrelson). A struggling writer takes a job writing obituaries, and he meets an ornery guy that’s making his job difficult. This is the type of movie Shirley Maclaine and Amanda Seyfried should’ve done instead of The Last Word last year.

There are lots of other movies playing the festival I’m looking forward to seeing. The closing night movie is going to be The Upside. I saw the French version of this (The Intouchables) about five years ago. But since Americans hate subtitled movies, the Weinstein crew came in to make this version, with Kevin Hart as the ex-con, hired to take care of a wealthy quadriplegic (Bryan Cranston). After his recent performance in Last Flag Flying, this is going to be a good year for Walter White.

Killing Gunther is a John Wick style story, where the world’s greatest hitman (Arnold Schwarzenegger, of course) has a hit out on him by various other hitmen. This is sure to be better than the disappointing Hitman’s Bodyguard was a few months ago.

From Gunther, to Gun. This is the movie I’m most looking forward to. Don’t confuse it with the Val Kilmer movie from seven years ago. This is about an aging boxer that steps back into the ring after his son is blinded in the ring during a fight. That premise reminds me a bit of The Champ.

For horse lovers out there, a couple of pictures to saddle up to. The documentary Down the Fence that deals with horse trainers preparing for competition. That may not sound so appealing, but one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen was about a horse whisperer (Buck). There’s also Herd, which documents herding horses. Always nice when the title gets right to the point. Kind of like the movie My Friend Dahmer. It deals with serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer before he went on his killing spree. It’s nice to see Anne Heche back (for those that met her and her husband at the Film Insiders Series this year).

Sometimes the name can be misleading, too. I caught The Bachelors at the Film Insider Series. J.K. Simmons, who won an Oscar as the mean music teacher in Whiplash, goes the opposite end of the acting spectrum by playing a widower who’s dealing with grief while trying to raise a teenage son. We watch as he’s the new kid at school, dealing with typical things — bullies and a girl he has a crush on. Dad is dealing with possibly dating a colleague, and it’s refreshing to have a movie that feels so realistic. You never root so hard for a couple of guys to make it through their grief. And as if you need another reason to catch the movies at these events the SDiFF put on — we got to hear the producer talk about getting this film made.

Dog Years is a movie I really want to see, especially after being disappointed last year by the Sam Elliott movie. He played an aging actor of westerns, who is given an award at a film festival. This has Burt Reynolds playing an aging actor dealing with a small town film festival. Since Reynolds did such a terrific job in an Oscar nominated performance as a porn director in Boogie Nights, this is a role that seems right up his alley [side note: his Boogie Night co-star Heather Graham will be one of the guests at the SDiFF this year].

The subject matter of Boogie Nights makes me think of the timely film Life Hack. It’s a rather timely story about a guy who is…uh…taking care of himself sexually, and the video on his computer captures the moment. A hacker then tries blackmailing him.

Thumper stars Liev Schreiber’s brother Pablo (The Wire), who is an undercover cop that’s going to bust a drug ring at a local high school. It sounds like a gritty and interesting film, and it’s already garnered some buzz after showing at a few other film festivals across the country. I’m guessing the last thing you’ll think about when watching Thumper…is Winnie the Pooh.

And I’m sure you want be thinking about Thelma & Louise when you watch Thelma. This is a sci-fi/fantasy, love story out of Norway. It deals with a woman that finds she has some dangerous supernatural powers. It’s already got a strong 86% good reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Catch this movie at the Film Festival, and at least when the Oscars come out and have the list of movies for “best foreign film” you know some of them. [side note: I had a great aunt named Thelma; is that a name anybody will use for their babies anymore?]

Butterfly Caught will surely make me forget about the bad Ashton Kutcher movie Butterfly Effect. It deals with a woman trying to make it in Hollywood, and finding out just how hard that is. I’m thrilled to see one of the cast members is Wolfgang Bodison, who is the first actor I ever interviewed on the radio, back when he was starring in A Few Good Men. It’ll be great to see him again on screen.

Another interesting looking foreign film is Under the Rose. It deals with a school girl that gets kidnapped.

When you catch Juvenile, you’ll get to ask rising star Blake Jenner (Everybody Wants Some, The Edge of Seventeen) about his performance in it. He’s one of the many interesting guests that’ll be at the SDiFF. This movie is about a guy that gets involved with a carjacking ring.

When Worlds Collide has nothing to do with the ‘50s sci-fi picture of the same name. This is a foreign film that will surprise you with just who comes and saves the day.

Storm Letter of Fire is out of the Netherlands. It’s about the son of a printer who prints banned texts by Martin Luther. He’s eventually hunted, and you’ll be on the edge of your seat the entire time.

OtherLife is a sci-fi thriller out of Australia, that you can’t know too much about before going into it. Jessica De Gouw (Arrow and Underground) stars in this story about a new drug that makes the has some interesting effects on people.

There are many other interesting movies playing at the San Diego International Film Festival. You can go here to see the list or buy tickets: http://sdfilmfest.com/