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AFI Fest, A to Y 

Wednesday, Nov 1 2006
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BUDDHA’S LOST CHILDREN (Netherlands/France) Almost every line spoken in this documentary about Khru Bah, a Thai kickboxer turned Buddhist monk who’s spent the last 15 years caring for orphans, sounds lifted directly from a spiritual guide. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In this fittingly meditative, beautifully filmed look at how Bah trains his often traumatized young charges to be monks, life lessons are doled out for the viewer in soft but irresistibly poetic tones. (Sat., Nov. 4, 6:15 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 5, 12:30 p.m.) (EH)

COMIC EVANGELISTS (USA) The best film to come out of Kalamazoo, Michigan, in ages, this amusing mock documentary, shot on video, follows a Christian improv troupe as they travel to a Toronto comedy festival they haven’t been invited to attend. Co-directors Daniel Jones and Dann Sytsma, plus a half dozen of Sytsma’s fellow performers from the real-life improv group Crawlspace Eviction, don’t poke fun at Christianity so much as the naiveté of a group of people even Jesus would’ve found nerdy. (Sun., Nov.5, 9:45 p.m.; Mon., Nov. 6, 4:30 p.m.) (Chuck Wilson)

A CRUDE AWAKENING — THE OILCRASH (Switzerland) We know about the political and environmental fallout from oil dependency, but we rarely worry about running out of the crucial substance. Filmmakers Basil Gelpke and Ray McCormack explore that nightmare scenario in this dry but very effective documentary, laying out the potential consequences for a civilization whose continued prosperity and development depend on newfound oil deposits, which are becoming increasingly scarce. Gelpke and McCormack’s dispassionate tone gives the dire material an extra level of doomed resignation, while their unwillingness to end the film on even the most remotely positive note underlines the urgency of their purpose. (Sun., Nov. 5, 9 p.m.; Mon., Nov. 6, 1:30 p.m.) (TG)

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DANIKA (USA) In the wake of The Sixth Sense, Mulholland Drive and Memento, the psychological twists of Danika may seem familiar, as Marisa Tomei navigates nightmares, hallucinations, and a waking reality in which she feels her children are in constant, increasing yet unspecified danger. Writer Joshua Leibner and director Ariel Vroman ply their story cards with energy and skill, but it’s Tomei — always a first-rate actress, seldom given a role this wildly dimensional — who communicates such raw fear and subtle layers of guilt as she fights her tide of delusions that the movie becomes more poignant, and more truly terrifying around her. (Thurs., Nov. 2, 10 p.m.; Fri., Nov. 3, noon) (F.X. Feeney)

DARKBLUEALMOSTBLACK (Spain) Despite its title, Daniel Sanchez Arevalo’s debut film is a light drama about an upwardly mobile janitor (Quim Gutierrez) whose infertile, ex-con brother (an over-the-top Antonio de la Torre) wants him to impregnate his still incarcerated girlfriend (the profoundly alluring Marta Etura). The wild plot has accents of Almodovar, but Arevalo’s real model seems to be early Mike Nichols. His highly choreographed, often stagey widescreen compositions recall The Graduate and Carnal Knowledge, as does his subject matter: the complicated sex lives of men in their 20s. Darkbluealmostblack has a breezy tone that often flirts with farce (mainly in a subplot about a male masseuse), but its characters all have tragic sides that give this coming-of-age story sincerity as well as style. (Thurs., Nov. 2, 9:30 p.m.; Fri., Nov. 3, 4 p.m.) (JCT)DARK CORNERS (U.K./USA) Thora Birch gets put through the wringer in Dark Corners, playing not one but two women (one blonde, one brunette, in the best David Lynch tradition) plagued by subconscious terrors and a seemingly supernatural serial killer. The basic premise — Birch’s light-and-dark characters seem to dream each other to life — has potential, but writer-director Ray Gower doesn’t do anything with it: Eventually, watching Birch drift off and wake up with a different hairdo becomes soporific, though there are a few solid cheap jolts and gushy gore shots for the genre hounds. (Fri., Nov. 10, 10 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 11, 2 p.m.) (AN)

DISAPPEARANCES Ever since his exquisite 1994 debut feature Where the Rivers Flow North, the Vermont-based writer-director Jay Craven has devoted himself to filming the work of the acclaimed regional novelist Howard Frank Mosher. Here, Craven doesn’t quite get his grip all the way around Mosher’s Prohibition-era tale of father (Kris Kristofferson) and son (Charlie McDermott) bootleggers traversing the Canadian border. The movie is pocked by odd touches of comedy (a whisky-guzzling monk) and mysticism (a cursed, shape-shifting villain) that one suspects worked better on the page. But as usual in Craven’s films, there are many strong performances (Kristofferson, Gary Farmer as a jovial uncle, and Genevieve Bujold as a superstitious grandmother) and the kind of richly evocative landscape photography one associates with the work of Carroll Ballard or Terrence Malick. (Mon., Nov. 6, 9:30 p.m.; Tues., Nov. 7, 1:30 p.m.) (SF)

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