Sake Bomb

Sake BombThe last thing that Asian-American YouTube sensation Sebastian (Eugene Kim) wants to do is help his Japanese cousin Naoto’s (Gaku Hamada) on his quest to find his “one true love.” Nonetheless, the two embark on road trip to Petaluma, California in Sake-Bomb.  Soft-spoken sake-maker Naoto leaves his native Japan for the United States to find out why the love of his life left him. His contact in California is Sebastian, a pessimistic American-born cousin who struggles against the stigma of his Asian ethnicity. Full of himself and enamored with the opportunity to explore his newly awakened sexual freedom, Sebastian is the polar opposite of Naoto. The difference in each man’s relationship to his Asian identity seems to be a gulf as wide as the ocean that separates them.

 

After Sebastian is begrudgingly forced into joining Naoto on his journey, the pair explore Northern California together. As the pair hit the road in search of answers they meet a diverse array of characters. A beautiful and seductive young writer (Marlane Barnes) tests Sebastian’s loyalty in ways that he never before considered. In spite of their distinct backgrounds, Naoko and Sebastian must rely on each other during their journey. They realize that their shared ethnicity is what the outside world responds to- rather than their distinctive personalities.

 

Sake-Bomb is director Junya Sakino’s debut feature, and provides plenty of laughs alongside its searing social commentary and vibrant visuals. The leading performances by Eugene Kim and Gaku Hamada are nothing short of courageous. Marlane Barnes is impressive with her believable portrait of a fiery free-spirited writer. Deftly examining how racial intolerance can emerge from some of the most unexpected sources, Sake-Bomb is a raucous ride through the fringes of American youth culture that doesn’t balk at the opportunity to explore the difficulties of cultural identification in young adulthood.

Red Obsession

Narrated by Russell Crowe, this documentary is a fascinating study about the world of fine wine and a cautionary lesson in global markets.

For centuries, Bordeaux has commanded an almost mythical status in the world of wine. What makes Bordeaux magical? A wine journalist is fascinated with the endless changes throughout history and the evolution of taste of the wine. The owner of Chateau Hosanna believes that it is simple reflection humanity, the love winemakers bring to the process of grape growing and wine producing, which gives the wine its undeniable magic. It is also believed that the perfect weather and terrain of the land makes Bordeaux the perfect wine. In wine lovers’ eyes, Bordeaux is a work of art with a soul.

Red Obsession

As a symbol of power, wealth and influence, Bordeaux’s history has always been tied to the shifting fortunes of global economies. As powerful nations rise and fall, so does the fate of the wine. In the past ten years, prices of top Bordeaux wines dramatically increased by more than one thousand percent due, almost exclusively, to the emergence of a new group of vintage wine lovers-the voracious wealthy Chinese consumer class. Vintage Bordeaux has become too valuable to drink for most of the traditional wine consumers from the US, Europe and the UK. With little understanding of the cult of (conspicuous?)consumption of these oenophiles and their obsession with luxurious items, French wine dealers are unprepared for the unique challenge of coping with wine fever in China.

Red Obsession is the story of the legendary wine varietal Bordeaux, and its seemingly reluctant engagement with the new wealthy Chinese consumer class. The mixed feelings of wine dealers in this globalized market and the ever changing culture of the nouveau riches in China are vividly presented and examined.

Omar – Opening Film

film-omar-650

2014 Opening Film 

$20, No Passes Accepted *

In Palestine’s first Oscar nominated film; all is fair in love and war. No film in recent memory unpacks this cynical, familiar sentiment with as much gusto and truth as Omar.  In the West Bank, the handsome Omar (Adam Bakri) is an apparently uncomplicated baker in love with his childhood friend Tarek’s (Iyad Hoorani) sister. So, Omar is a love story? Or is it a war story? A political statement? A simple thriller? Like the enormous border wall that separate the lovers at the heart of Hany Abu-Assad’s Omar, the truth is somewhere in between.

No one and nothing should be taken at face value in Omar.

The ebb and flow of daily life in the West Bank unfolds before us. Remarkably ordinary in many respects.  Yet there is that wall. Routinely, Omar bravely and recklessly embarks on impressive acrobatic excursions over the border wall. He ostensibly does this to visit Tarek on the other side. But, in truth, his destination is Tarek’s elusive, beautiful younger sister Nadia. The norms of courtship relegate the young lover’s relationship to surreptitious notes and furtive, secret meetings. After one such visit, Omar is detained by Israeli soldiers. He eventually is free to leave, but not before one of the soldiers abuses his power by forcing Omar to (mildly) humiliate himself in the middle of the road.  The implication is that the constant reminder of his powerlessness is beginning to wear on him- and young men like him.

None of the protagonists seem to be particularly radical. Or religious. Yet, some evenings Omar, hot-headed Tarek and insidious, yet inept, Amjad (Samer Bisharat) practice shooting at inanimate targets with semi-automatic weapons as part of their training in the resistance.  Even this seems to be rather commonplace.  But they just aren’t very good at it. We believe that these goofballs cannot be taken seriously as “freedom fighters.”

The unraveling begins on the evening they replace a dummy target for a real one. This act cannot go unanswered. After a heart-pounding chase sequence, Omar is apprehended days later by Israeli authorities.

While in prison, he is brutally interrogated.  The unsophisticated young man is ultimately “tricked” into admitting his participation in the incident.  He is left with no good options. Israeli Agent Rami (Waleed Zuaiter) offers him a devil’s deal: Inform on his cohorts and gain freedom, perhaps with Nadia, perhaps with a visa to a foreign land.

Or rot in prison.

Omar’s choice unleashes a storm of plot and character twists. At the heart of everything is Omar’s longing for Nadia. However suddenly, everyone’s motives are nebulous.  Character backstories may now be fiction. The seemingly incorruptible is scrutinized.  Even love itself may be a delusion. Paranoia and intrigue pervade every frame.   Omar’s final confrontation seems the inevitable conclusion of his character’s arc.

But… wait for it… the final image…here comes the gut punch.

Norte, the End of History

Norte, the End of HistoryNorte, the End of History, a partial adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, tells the story of two men, Joaquin (Archie Alemania) and Fabian (Sid Lucero)- both repeated borrowers from local usurer and villainess, Magda (Mae Paner). When the two bear witness to one of Magda’s particularly cruel acts, they respond with violence. Joaquin attempts to strangle Magda but flees when he cannot complete the deed, while, later that evening; Fabian brutally murders both Magda and her adolescent daughter. Yet the police accuse Joaquin of the crime, and Fabian roams free.

 

What follows is a harrowing tale of suffering and brutality, as well as a philosophical consideration of crime and its far-reaching consequences. Fabian, refusing to publicly acknowledge his crime and continuing to wallow in his contrarian intellectualism, flees to Manila, where he befriends a group of born-again Christians. Joaquin, on the other hand, helplessly asserts his innocence from prison while doing his best to offer compassion in an otherwise ruthlessly violent and merciless environment. Meanwhile, Joaquin’s wife, Eliza (Angeli Bayani), struggles to make ends meet for their two young children and come to terms with her husband’s absence.

 

With a deliberate long-take style, the film’s pacing and visuals pay homage to directors like Andrei Tarkovsky and Lisandro Alonso. It also raises timeless questions of justice and forgiveness, both for these characters and on a much broader scale: Will Fabian confess his crime? Will Joaquin be acquitted? What forms can justice take, if ever it occurs? How much violence can weigh upon one person’s conscience before s/he breaks under its weight? How do the pains of suffering play out differently in the lives of men and women and in the lives of believers and non-believers? Norte poses these questions quietly and subtly against a Filipino background that glows with incongruous, elemental beauty.

Mourning Recipe – Closing Film

Mourning Recipe

 

$15 * No passes accepted

What if you were given a set of guidelines, neé, a recipe for healing? What if you were given a set of steps that, if followed to the letter, could guarantee a happy outcome for your life?

Loss permeates the lives of Ryohei, (Renji Ishibashi) a grieving widower and his daughter, Yuriko (Hiromi Nagasaku), who is on the verge of divorcing her cheating husband. The absence of Otomi, Ryohei’s wife and Yuriko’s mother is oppressive. Ryohei falls into apathy and depression. Yuriko longs for comfort after the devastating discovery of her husband’s infidelity and struggles with infertility. The traditional 49 day mourning period following her mother’s passing is the backdrop for her visit to her father- whom she finds to be bereft and guilt-ridden.

Teenager Imoto (Fumi Nikaido), arrives unbidden to Ryohei’s household and, in short order, takes it upon herself to putting the house in order. She is a stranger to Ryohei and Yuriko, but they soon warm to her presence. More off-putting, however, is the sudden appearance, also uninvited, of Harumi (Masaki Okada), a flamboyant, bubbly, outspoken friend of Otomi. The pair avail themselves to the grieving family to help put together a festive party (in lieu of a somber memorial) that Otomi specifically requested to end the 49 day period of mourning. Moreover, Imo hands over a recipe book, written by Otomi. The recipes are for cooking, cleaning, and nurturing  one’s way to a fulfilling life.  Ryohei and Yuriko give it a shot, feeling this unorthodox endeavor, with these two unorthodox personalities, is a way to remain connected to Otomi.

Director Yuki Tanada breathes life back into the character of Otomi. Already passed when the film opens, superficially, Otomi is a “typical” self-sacrificing, ever-nurturing wife and mother. But, as father and daughter cook and clean their way through her testament, her character grows more complex, more beloved, and her loss all the more conspicuous. What starts out as a simple family melodrama develops into a meditation on family, connection, grief, and ultimately- healing.

 

 

 

Kush

kush

FREE screening, included with Beyond All Boundaries ticket

A school field trip rapidly goes awry in this short film based on the shocking death of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984 and the large-scale ethnic violence tragedy that followed.  Kush follows a group of school children that become responsible for the protection of their classmate, Kush (Shayaan Sameer), as news of Gandhi’s assassination spreads across the country. Hours from home and with a bus as their only form of transportation, things go from bad to worse as armed guards operating roadblocks begin to exact their own form of justice against any Sikh they find. Kush, the only Sikh in his class, must rely on the courage of his peers and the strength of Gita, (Sonika Chopra) his teacher, if he hopes to return home alive.

 

Kush takes a look back at one of the bloodiest and controversial events in Indian history through the viewpoint of a child and his personal loss of innocence as a result of tensions between social factions. Director Shubhashish Bhutiani has stated that though the film deals with issues specific to Sikhs, his purpose in bringing Kush to the big screen was to convey a message of compassion that would be universal for audiences. In his own words: “We have seen people like this [Gita] before rise up and help in times of suffering. The teacher in the film might as well be Oscar Schindler and the setting, Nazi Germany.” Winner of the Best Short Film Award at the renowned Venice Film Festival in 2013, Kush is a powerful debut statement from Bhutiani.

Jadoo

JadooShalini, (Amara Karan) a successful lawyer living in London, has just accepted her boyfriend’s (Tom Mison, of TV’s Sleepy Hollow) proposal. While her fiancé is excited about meeting his future father-in-law, Shalini worries about something else. She’s uncertain if her father is ready to accept this cross-cultural relationship. However, the larger, looming issue is the long-standing rivalry between her father and uncle. Shalini cannot be sure if her fiancé is ready to accept her family, either.

 

The feud between her father and uncle started more than 20 years ago. The two brothers had a fierce dispute over an heirloom family cookbook. Following an extremely heated exchange, they have not spoken since. Their solution has been to stoke the rivalry over the decades by establishing competing curry houses across the street in Leicester’s little India.

 

Shalini travels home from London to inform her family about the wedding. Her biggest wish is to reunite her father and uncle and persuade them to cater together at her wedding. Like an entrée course needs an appetizer, the two brothers can’t cook the perfect wedding banquet without each other. Persuading her father and uncle seems impossible. But the competition of an upcoming culinary contest is irresistible to the feuding siblings- and provides Shalini the perfect opportunity to mend fences.

 

Prepare for inventive comedy, heartwarming conversations, and most ravishingly…. scrumptious food! Don’t come to the movie hungry!

Hide and Seek

Hide and SeekThis indie gem was shot on a modest budget, by an unknown director, with no high-profile actors, Hide and Seek was the surprise hit of 2013 at the South Korean box office- with good reason. The film spins the tale of Baek Sung-soo (Son Hyun-joo), whose stable life as a successful businessman gets upended when he begins having strange and inexplicable visions. Adding to these bizarre occurrences is the discovery of a spike in “squatting,” where a homeless person takes up residence in a house or apartment without the owner’s permission. The sudden and startling changes in Baek’s life become further complicated when he suspects his estranged brother Sung-chul may somehow be involved. It isn’t long until Baek’s entire family gets drawn into the mysterious events-despite his best efforts to protect them.

 

Director Jung Huh sustains the tension by skillfully weaving together supernatural plot elements with the gradual disintegration of this typical Korean family unit. The relationship between Baek and his brother Sung-chul allows for an exploration of the disparity between social classes in modern society. Combining the intensity and dynamism of a crime thriller with the daring nature of Asian horror cinema, Hide and Seek delivers shocks that evoke our most primal fears.

 

Though Hide and Seek is Jung Huh’s debut feature, his direction crackles with the confidence of a seasoned veteran. The story moves along at a breakneck pace, leaving viewers just enough time to catch their breath from one thrill before being confronted with another. Baek’s family battles with a host of twitchy neighbors, eerie entities, and of course, their own inner demons, when the truth begins to unravel. Alfred Hitchcock meets Takashi Miike in this South Korean horror thriller, and as the title implies, in Hide and Seek terror is often lurking right around the corner

Garden Of Words

Garden of Words

© Makoto Shinkai/Comix Wave Films
 
 

Garden of Words is a study in visual poetry and an ode to human connection and discovery. In the midst of a summer rainstorm, Takao (Miyu Irino) skips school and sketches in a local park . There he meets a mysterious and troubled woman named Yukino (Kana Hanazawa). The pair exchanges few words. Intrigued, Takao vows to cut class and return to the park on rainy days. Whenever he does, Yukino is always in the same place.

As the two characters become more comfortable with each other they begin to open up, and their backstories are gradually revealed. Takao is training to become a shoemaker despite heckling from his friends and family, while Yukino admits that she has been skipping work to drink beer and eat chocolate in the park. Takao becomes increasingly concerned with Yukino’s wellbeing and longs to care for her. But, predictably, the rainy season ends just as quickly as it began. Without the rainfall to encourage him to return to the park, Takao shifts his attention back to shoemaking, but it is not long before a familiar face resurfaces and complicates his life in an unexpected way.

Makoto Shinkai has been praised for his previous animation work, and Garden of Words is another stunning visual journey. Though the plot is focused on the growing relationship between Takao and Yukino, Shinkai takes time to examine the setting as well as the characters, framing natural elements such as birds and flowers in a move that recalls traditional Japanese painting. The locations in the film were inspired by the real-life Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo, and poetic musical score in the film is similarly tranquil and reflective of the setting. Garden of Words is a work that boasts a beautiful combination of style and substance, and the unconventional story effectively deconstructs preconceptions surrounding the cultural expectations of relationships.

Confession of Murder

Confession of MurderA killer comes forth and a cold case starts heating up in Confession of Murder. A handsome young man, Lee Du-seok (Park Si-hoo) emerges from nowhere and publishes a revealing biography in which he admits to killing ten women in an infamous series of murders. The public is intrigued and repelled by Lee and his book. But law enforcement officials are helpless to prosecute him since the statute of limitations on the case has expired.

 

Lieutenant Choi (Jeong Jae-young) was tasked with stopping the killer during his original rampage, but his failure to capture him left him scarred. After hearing of Lee’s confession, Choi becomes torn between vengeance and duty. As he struggles to face the man who claims to be the grisly serial killer, Lieutenant Choi must battle himself just as much as he pushes back against Lee Du-seok. Meanwhile, other players enter the fray as well, including family members of the victims. Their own plots for revenge only complicate the situation surrounding Lee. And the purported killer has become a media superstar.

 

Yet as Lee is pressed for intimate details and questions arise.  Lt. Choi grows more suspicious about his true intentions.  The exhilarating action scenes are nearly matched in spectacle by the searing commentary on media sensationalism and society’s insatiable hunger for celebrity. While Confession of Murder is an exciting genre piece with a constantly twisting plot, it is as deceptively smart as it is entertaining.