Combustible Celluloid

The 8th Annual San Francisco IndieFeset

Indie America

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The San Francisco IndieFest always provides a welcome respite from the horrid January films that darken multiplexes this time of year. The 8th festival launches tonight with John Hillcoat's Australian Western, The Proposition, 7 p.m. at the Castro Theatre.

In the past, the fest has provided a selection of memorable cult classics (Intermission, Bubba Ho-Tep, Funny Ha Ha"); this year, the lineup yields no particular standout, but the overall quality of each film is above average.

If there is a winner, however, it's undoubtedly Gregory Hatanaka's Mad Cowgirl. The button-cute Sarah Lassez stars as Therese, a meat inspector during the "mad cow disease crisis." While battling a brain disease seemingly brought on by tainted meat, she's at the tail end of an on-again, off-again affair with a televangelist (Walter Koenig, from "Star Trek"), and loves watching bad kung-fu TV shows. Half the film is hellish nightmare imagery and the other half ranges from sweet to funny. Mr. Koenig will attend the Saturday, Feb. 4 showing.

Also highly recommended is Sidekick, a twisted superhero story that has reportedly been purchased for a big-budget Hollywood remake, though this indie version is certainly good enough for multiplexes. Perry Mucci plays Norman, a nerdy comic collector who trains hunky Victor (David Ingram) to use his God-given psychic abilities to fight crime. Baldwin brother Daniel co-stars as the owner of a comic book store.

A few star directors turn up as well: Takashi Miike (Audition) provides the closing night film, The Great Yokai War and Andrew Lau and Alan Mak (Infernal Affairs) deliver their latest, Initial D. Dario Argento and Don Coscarelli team up for a double bill consisting of their hour-long "Master of Horror" TV episodes.

The festival has other movies far too twisted for prime time, such as Jimmy and Judy. Edward Furlong and Rachael Bella star as the ages-old lovers-on-the-run (the same ones from Gun Crazy all the way up to Natural Born Killers), but the twist is that the entire movie is shot, Blair Witch-style, by the two protagonists and their video camera. Mr. Furlong will attend the Saturday, Feb. 4 screening.

Another midnight screening resurrects the neglected 1998 vampire film Razor Blade Smile, starring Eileen Daly as a leather-clad, undead contract killer.

In straight drama, we have Brian Bedard's powerful Façade, a kind of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf for the suicidal twenty-something drug-dealer set. And Lee Kreiger's December Ends, which tells the story of a lost soul, Chris, who takes up drug dealing to help out his grief-stricken, widowed father. Unfortunately, he falls in love with his supplier's girlfriend. And American director J.R. Heffelfinger captures the life of a despairing Japanese businessman in Under the Rainbow.

Finally, truth is ultimately stranger than fiction, as A/k/a Tommy Chong shows. This documentary argues how Chong's 2003 arrest for selling drug paraphernalia was most likely designed to further the careers of right-wing politicians. Mr. Chong will be present for the Saturday, Feb. 4 screening.

February 2, 2006

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