Preview: Cinequest 2018

Preview: Cinequest 2018

Charlie Sheen, William H. Macy, John Travolta all guests at this year's fest

IMPACT! This is Cinequest 2018's word of the year—thankfully, the word is not "impactful," which is a bad word used by bad people. The fest runs Feb. 27-Mar. 11, bringing actors Andie MacDowell of Groundhog Day, John Travolta, William H. Macy, Charlie Sheen, Turner Classic Movies historian Ben Mankiewicz, Orphan Black's Tatiana Maslany, and the rising star Tom Cullen—of both Downton Abbey and the British movie Weekend.

These are the names as of now. As February unfolds up to the Cinequest opening date, there will be others, including the screenwriters who'll be turning up on the "From Script to Screen" presentations.

Last year's fest had its glitches—VR that sometimes wasn't real enough, for example. Many faced problems crossing the valley to Redwood City, where a portion of the festival was held as a result of the closure of the Camera 12 in downtown San Jose. Cinequest is returning to the Century Downtown 20, located far, far away in San Mateo County. But this year, since 3Below is open, the Camera 3 is more or less back from the grave; the California Theater is open for the bigger-scale productions, and the Hammer Theater is ready for more intimate, shot-on-digital work.

Opening night is Macy's new directorial effort, Krystal; Macy, who won the fest's 2003 Maverick Spirit Award, directs another MSA winner: Rosario Dawson. In the title role, the sultry yet nerdy Dawson plays a hard-luck stripper sought by a naive young man (Nick Robinson of Jurassic World). Closing night is Paul Sanchez's Brothers in Arms, a documentary about the making of Platoon, the much Oscar-lauded 1986 Vietnam film directed by a veteran of that conflict, Oliver Stone.

"Prairie Madness" took its toll on settlers who tried to colonize the Great Plains states—from the Dakotas to Texas, European arrivals were driven to suicide or insanity by the howling winds. This nervous condition was the kind of bad news that land offices tried to hush up, to keep from discouraging more immigrant farmers moving in. Texas-born writer and professor Dorothy Scarborough wrote a supernaturally-tinged novel about how the desolation was particularly hard on women. She published anonymously, at least in part because she worried about reprisals for describing the hardscrabble life in farm towns the 1880s. The film of her novel is 1928's The Wind, by the brilliant Swedish director Victor Sjostrom (auteur of the still-best film version of The Scarlet Letter). Lillian Gish is a lone woman driven to hysteria by the dust storms. It's very infrequently revived, likely because it's frightening, and nigh-impossible to find on home viewing; it screens at the California Theatre on March 9 with master organist Dennis James at the Wurlitzer.

Almost 100 premieres are happening at the fest, including the Kaiser Thrive award winner Pick of the Litter, by Dana Nachman and Don Hardy, the directors of Witch Hunt and Batkid Begins. It's a sort of reality show in which the winning puppy out of a pack of five will become a guide dog. Fans of Battle of the Sexes might be lured to Borg/McEnroe about the rivalry between two of the 1970s' best tennis players, John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf) and Bjorn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason).

Ashram stars renowned character actress Melissa Leo and Kal Penn, best known for the Harold and Kumar series, in a thriller that explores the underside of a charismatic guru's meditation center. Michelle Pfeiffer stars in the drama Where is Kyra? In a piece that seems to have the same outline as the Sam Elliott-starring Hero, Burt Reynolds is the lead in The Last Movie Star.

The Czech film Barefoot is about a country boy relocated to Prague during World War II; it's directed by the Oscar-winning Jan Sverak (Kolya). And the eclectic Brad Anderson, who once upon a time brought his first film, The Darien Gap, to Cinequest before going on to better-known work, such as the excellent Transsiberian, returns with the Rosamund Pike and Jon Hamm thriller Beirut.

Eleven nightly VIP soirees at downtown restaurants, followed by no-host Maverick Meetups: "If you don't like the movie, at least you'll like the after-movie drinks" has been a long-standing unofficial motto of the festival.

  • Cinequest 2018
  • Feb 27-Mar 11
  • San Jose & Redwood City
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