SFIFF, day seven: Home, Towne, and Leigh love

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By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Well, I wasn't able to catch up with Errol Morris this time around, and I'm bummed, but I secured an interview with screenwriter extraordinaire Robert Towne, which I will share with you later in the week.

I did catch up with Touching Home, the feature debut by local twins Logan and Noah Miller, and after watching it I suspect that their future may lie more in the realm of producing than directing or acting; their meetings may be more interesting than their movies.

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Touching Home touches upon Christmas

Apparently the Millers accosted Ed Harris outside the Castro Theater in 2006, when the actor received the festival's Peter J. Owens award. They pitched him their project and even showed him a trailer. The movie itself shows similar marketing smarts. It's the story of twin brothers, both baseball players, who dream of making the big time. One loses his scholarship and the other is fired from his bush league position, so they slink home, get jobs in the local quarry and hope for a chance in the spring in Arizona. Meanwhile, one brother reconnects with their alcoholic, gambling-addicted father (Harris) and finds a cute new girlfriend, leading to fights between the brothers.

The film's major flaw is that the identical twins fail to visually distinguish themselves on screen (one is missing a tooth, but that's not enough of a marker during a fast-moving scene). When each shot begins, it's very difficult to tell which is which. Otherwise, this is strictly Lifetime Channel material, complete with a "based on a true story" tag at the start, but the boys also veer it into weepy Field of Dreams territory, pulling at men's heartstrings (it's a date movie, to be sure).

Harris gets a plum Oscar-friendly supporting role, and he plays it subtly and marvelously, letting sadness seep through his eyes. Brad Dourif also gets one, playing Harris' developmentally disabled brother, and he plays it right, too; he melts in with the rest of the cast instead of showing off like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man (1988) or Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump (1994). If that's not enough, the Millers throw in a Christmas scene too! This thing is marketed six ways to Sunday, designed and directed for every occasion. The finished movie is almost beside the point.

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Ed Harris delivers

Tonight Mike Leigh appears at the Castro to receive the festival's Directing award and to host a screening of his film Topsy-Turvy (1999). Leigh is an ingenious filmmaker and truly deserving of the award, but he was a bit of a curmudgeon (to put it politely) when I last interviewed him, and Topsy-Turvy is my least favorite of his films. Despite exhibiting his signature style, it's not much more than a standard biopic, running a bit too long and telling an all-too familiar story. It's too bad the festival isn't showing Naked (1993), which is arguably Leigh's masterpiece and would have led to a much more interesting Q&A.

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Wot, how could you possibly not like
Topsy-Turvy?!?

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