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Wine Country Film Festival 

Flick Picks

Reviews by David Templeton, Diane Anderson-Minshall, Greg Cahill and Patrick Sullivan

THE WINE COUNTRY Film Festival kicks off its 13th year with two weeks of screenings in Napa County, starting Thursday, July 22, before moving over to Sonoma County starting on Thursday, Aug. 5, for another two weeks. The Napa Valley screenings take place at two venues: Masonic Hall, 1335 Main St., St. Helena; and Sequoia Grove Vineyards, 8338 St. Helena Hwy., Rutherford. For more information, pick up a festival program or call the hotline at 935-3456.

Below, you'll find short reviews of several films shown on the Napa Valley side.

30, Still Single, Contemplating Suicide

Here we are, smack in the middle of summer. And, cinematically speaking, it's fast turning out to be one of the raunchiest, most foul-mouthed summers on record, with such potty-mouthed gross-fests as American Pie, South Park, and the Austin Powers sequel. Rising above them all, however, is an independent treasure that is easily the most intelligent, candid (and hilariously shocking) sex comedy of the pack.

Featuring a cast of unknowns, 30: Still Single, Contemplating Suicide is an offbeat, nearly plotless exploration of the inner workings of the single person's mind. It begins with a frightfully honest, 30-something guy talking to the camera--as he enjoys his last beach-side omelet at his favorite Los Angeles cafe--explaining why he has decided to leave L.A. forever. What follows is a series of flashbacks that feature some of the most straightforward sexual dialogue ever filmed, with scene after scene that push the envelope of acceptability while hitting nail after psychological nail squarely on the head. It's the funniest, most daring movie this reviewer has seen in years.

The film screens on Saturday, July 31, at 4 p.m. at Masonic Hall. (DT)

Death: A Love Story

In the grand tradition of documentary filmmaking, Michelle Le Brun has opened her heart and her home and let viewers in on her personal pain in her debut film Death: A Love Story. As wrenching as Rachel's Daughters and as thoughtful as License to Kill, the film follows Le Brun's own journey from newlywed to widow after her much older husband--American Film Institute founding director Mel Howard--is diagnosed with liver cancer. Death is less a chronicle of one man's life than an incredibly intimate look at how one couple copes with illness. As the clock ticks down ("Six weeks after diagnosis," Le Brun says from behind the camera), Mel discusses his growing sense of spiritual transformation and, at the same time, his powerlessness. Sometimes he takes the camera himself and asks director Le Brun, "What will you do when I die?" We already know the hero dies in this film, but the lovestruck Le Brun captures his final moments with an unprecedented serenity.

Death: A Love Story screens with Merci Mon Chien on Sunday, July 25, at 6:30 and 7:45 p.m. at the Sequoia Grove Vineyards. RSVP. (DA)

The Spitball Story

In 1941, the Cab Calloway band was the hip place to be in, a spawning ground for some of the jazz world's brightest stars. It was the height of the swing era and the dawn of be bop. Filmmaker Jean Bach--in the follow-up to 1995's Oscar-winning jazz documentary A Great Day in Harlem--spins a yarn about a little known practical joke that indirectly led to the creation of a major musical movement. In the thick of the action is the late trumpet master Dizzy Gillespie, then a frisky 23-year-old with a knack for firing spitballs at his bandmates but who had no way of knowing that his antics would help launch bebop. This 21-minute study is a whimsical trip inside a fascinating era.

The Spitball Story screens with two other films at a short-film showcase on Saturday, July 31, at 2 p.m. at Masonic Hall. (GC)

Human Remains

San Francisco filmmaker Jay Rosenblatt has crafted a disturbingly indirect documentary short about five of this bloody century's most murderous dictators. You probably think you've heard and seen all there is to see and hear about such one-name boogiemen as Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini (although few people know as much about Francisco Franco or Mao Tse-tung, the other two featured here). But, by using found footage of these men's private lives, the director takes a new look at history's biggest monsters, focusing on their personal foibles and largely ignoring their public acts of horror. That strategic omission creates a profoundly eerie effect that builds throughout the 30-minute film.

Human Remains screens with The Blood Memory--The Voices of Sand Creek on Sunday, Aug. 1, at 2 p.m. at Masonic Hall. (PS)

From the July 15-21, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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