If you're gonna make the journey across the Golden Gate Bridge, the movie better be worth it, right? Fortunately, the 2013 Mill Valley Film Festival boasts a stellar schedule. Read on for our top picks.
Run & Jump (Steph Green, Ireland/Germany) San Francisco-born director Steph Green's first feature is a likable seriocomedy about an Irish family trying to adjust to some drastic, unforeseen changes. After suffering a stroke and coming out of a coma, Conor Casey (Edward MacLiam) is a changed man — uncommunicative, sometimes volatile, seldom at all like the beloved husband and father he was. As wife Venetia (Maxine Peake) and their two kids tiptoe around him, they get a houseguest in the form of American neurologist Ted (Will Forte), who's here to study Conor's recovery (or lack thereof) with clinical detachment. The reserved, emotionally withdrawn Yank finds himself drawn into the Caseys' shared warmth, particularly in its current need for a fill-in adult male — opening up to the children and, more riskily, striking romantic sparks with the Mrs. A bit formulaic but a crowd-pleaser nonetheless, the film is perhaps most notable for its winning dramatic turn by Saturday Night Live alum Forte, also at MVFF in Alexander Payne's Nebraska. Fri/4, 9:15pm, and Sun/6, 1pm, Sequoia. (Dennis Harvey)
Imagine (Andrzej Jakimowski, Poland) Andrzej Jakimowski's quiet yet sometimes exhilaratingly original film manages to make blindness relatable as perhaps never before in a primarily visual medium. Ian (Edward Hogg) is an enigmatic Englishman who shakes up a Lisbon facility for his fellow sightless with radical ideas and an insistence that residents push their limits — throwing away their canes, moving about more boldly in the world via developing almost superhuman attentiveness to sound reverberation as their guide. There are a couple astounding (and hair-raising) sequences where the viewer's own sensory intake is focused in unfamiliar ways. Mysterious, peculiar, and wistful, Imagine is uneven but often arrestingly memorable, its biggest minus being a musical score that mistakenly thinks this is an antic comedy. Sat/5, 6:15pm, and Sun/6, 6:30pm, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
Desert Runners (Jennifer Steinman, US) It's appropriate that Mill Valley, starting point of the legendary Dipsea Race, hosts the US premiere of this doc about a group of runners who attempt to complete the 4 Deserts Race Series, which stages ultramarathons across unforgiving terrain in Chile, China, Egypt, and Antarctica. Each athlete has his or her own stirring backstory, and each shows incredible grit in the face of injuries and intense dehydration. Darker moments come courtesy of petite Aussie Samantha's mid-race encounter with a would-be rapist, and the news that a competitor (not featured in the film) has died along the trail. But Desert Runners is ultimately an admiring portrait of its charismatic subjects (all white, all presumably able to afford the $20,000-plus total cost of entering all four races) who willingly subject themselves to extreme bodily harm. It's up to the viewer to decide if they're inspirational, or kinda nuts. Or both. Sun/6, 2:15pm, Sequoia; Oct 12, 5:45pm, 142 Throckmorton. (Cheryl Eddy)