Sunday, March 1, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 5

Another day, another 6 shows (because I just didn't have the stamina for 7, I must be getting old.)

Once again I was in the lounge and having a beer at 10 am. But this time, my first film was at 10:45

It started with a PTP short, AT WHAT AGE? Four people at age 12, 18, 40, and 70 talk about what society says they can and cannot do at that age, and conclude that chronological age is just a hangup.

That was the perfect lead-in to STILL DREAMING. At a retirement home for old entertainers--that is, actors, crew people, or even family of actors--they decide to team up with a couple of up-and-coming Shakespearean directors to put on a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream with the residents. For several of them, this is their first time working at a professional level in decades. For at least one--who's a family member not an actress--it's her first time acting, period. For others, they were song and dance people and never did Shakespeare before. It's hard work (especially if your eyesight isn't good enough to read a script anymore) but they throw themselves into it. Tension mounts as the performance date approaches. There's a dramatic blowup, in fact, and it almost looks like all their work will unravel. But...well, it's not actually important how the performance goes (it's great, actually, and everybody seems to enjoy it) what's really awesome is how the staff talk about being able to reduce their medication and just how much more energy, vibrancy, and life the place has. And that's pretty darn awesome.

STILL DREAMING plays again Mar 4 at 9:15 and Mar 6 at 12:15

Then because the first show started late I had to book it out of there as the credits started to make it to the opening credits of THE ANNIVERSARY. One year ago was Sam and Teresa's 20th anniversary, and they planned a huge party. Then Sam went for a run...and never come back. Now one year later they're having the party again, inviting all their friends although only a handful show up (good for keeping the cast small) because most of them think Teresa is crazy and sad for believing he'll show up again. They go through many stages of...well, complicated relationships. Hate, love, drunkenness, drugs, singing. I know it's a goddamn cliche, but I really did laugh and cry. It's a beautiful movie and I am not a good enough writer to communicate that, so I'm just going to have to ask you to trust me on this. Oh, it's also got Colin Mochrie in a superhero costume, if that hooks you in!

THE ANNIVERSARY plays again Mar 3 at 5:15

Then I hadn't drunk with any filmmaker in the next time slot, so I took a refreshing and revitalizing nap in the lounge....  Ha ha ha! No, I drunk like beer had just been invented! So I was kinda hammered by the time I went to HOW TO LOSE JOBS AND ALIENATE GIRLFRIENDS. So it's a testament to how engaging this movie is that I didn't fall asleep even for a minute. Thomas Meadmore was an editor for Lonely Planet films. His boss is an aspiring musician, and agrees to let him make a documentary about his band Speed Orange making their second album. Problem is he is admittedly not a great guitarist and doesn't have the best voice (this confession will come back to haunt...Tom.) Meanwhile his girlfriend is also an aspiring musician--a folk singer who doesn't put nearly enough work into practicing and writing. And Tom's blunt criticism as a film director threatens to...well, do exactly what the title says it will. Well, that and breaking all the rules about a documentary filmmaker maintaining some degree of distance and impartiality with the subject. Filmed over several years, the story eventually became about how the movie has ruined Tom's life, and the biggest moral, of course, is get your subjects to sign a release first! Tom makes a big deal about how Tarantino was a big inspiration for him to become a filmmaker. I don't know if he'll ever make a Tarantino-esque film, but he's made a great, hilarious, personal documentary.

HOW TO LOSE JOBS AND ALIENATE GIRLFRIENDS plays again Mar 2 at 1:00 and Mar 3 at 9:15

A little schedule reshuffling that I hadn't paid attention to left me scrambling a bit for my next movie, but I eventually settled on the Spanish/Indian movie, TRACES OF SANDALWOOD. Mina was a little girl when her sister Sita was born and her mother died in childbirth. She saved her from being drowned and started taking care of her, teaching her to do laundry as a toddler. But they're sold to a new family, and while Mina is taken to a brothel (where she quickly escapes, no worries) Sita is given to a Catholic orphanage. Mina escapes (as I've said) and becomes a servant/friend for a nice family with a nice older brother who takes a shine to her and takes her to the movies. Flash forward 20 some years and Mina is a Bollywood star, the older brother is her husband and producer, and she's still searching for Sita. In fact, she makes a movie about her life just for that purpose, and gets a call from that Catholic orphanage and through a little digging find out that Sita is living as Paula Diaz in Barcelona. So a trip to Barcelona is in the works. And that was all set up about as quickly as I wrote it. The heart of the movie is really Paula/Sita coming to terms with her hidden past She had forgotten her early years in India, and her parents had never even told her she was adopted. So first she reacts with disbelief, then mistrust (as everyone is telling her that Mina must only be looking for money.) But she starts watching Bollywood movies and starts getting close to a nice Indian man who gives her advice about Mina's films. A charming drama about different cultures and learning how to be part of both of them.

TRACES OF SANDALWOOD plays again Mar 3 at 7:30 and Mar 7 at 2:00.

Then again because one movie started a bit late, I had to run out to make it to the next film at the California, FOR HERE OR TO GO? Keeping with the Indian dual-culture theme, this is very much a Silicon Valley film. Vivek is a tech worker in Silicon Valley, on an alien work visa. He wants to leave his big company job where everyone is a moron who doesn't understand scalability. He wants to work for a small healthcare technology startup, but they don't have a budget for dealing with immigration paperwork. So he's always under threat to lose his job and be deported back to India. His circle of friends are all in similar straits--ranging from illegals to  temporary visas to about to get their green cards. The tension between the "freedom" of America and how quickly that can all be taken away is the source of high drama and some comedy. Add in that a complicated dating life (he seems to know every Sweta in the world) and a spirited debate between making a success in America or returning to India and using skills learned in America to improve their homeland. The immigrant experience has never exactly been an easy one, but the bureaucratic nightmare America has created seems particularly suited to make it impossible (seriously, how can you demonstrate one year of good behavior if that would mean overstaying your visa--by definition being in America one year later is demonstrating bad behavior...never mind the seven years of good behavior preceding it.)

FOR HERE OR TO GO? plays again Mar 6 at 7:00 and Mar 7 at 9:15

And finally, the midnight movie BAD EXORCISTS, a cheap and hilarious story of loser kids at a Catholic school--a nerd, a Jew, and a fat weirdo. And they're all film geeks...but really bad at making a movie. So they decide to make an exorcism flick by stealing their teacher's book on exorcism to add a little verisimilitude to the film. It adds to much, as they get their lead actress possessed by a demon. Oops! Wacky high school hijinx ensue, complete with bitchy girlfriends, super-soakers full of holy water, and heroic nerds. Awesome!

BAD EXORCISTS plays again Mar 1 at 4:00 and Mar 5: at 2:45

Total Running Time: 542 minutes
My Total Minutes: 386,720

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 4

A big six-movie day on Friday, so let's jump right in.

As always, I was there for one of the first two beers of the day (the other belonging to my friend Roy) in the lounge. But this time it wasn't so crazy to be there at 10 am. After all, my first film was at...noon.

And that first film was the Hungarian comedy, FOR SOME INEXPLICABLE REASON. Hapless Aron expects to just fall down dead at any random moment, be it in the park, in the middle of the street, or wherever. And that's the least of his problems. He's got no money, no job, and now no girlfriend. Not even the remnants of her hair in the sink--and she always left her hair in the sink, it was something they fought about. But she even took that when she left. But he does have some friends who will go out drinking with him all night, even if it means he wakes up with a plane ticket to Lisbon and no memory of the night. And he's got friends who will teach him how to pick up floozies in bars, even if he wusses out when she gets all naked on her bed waiting for him (what, like actually knowing her name is so important to you?) Star Áron Ferenczik does a great job of bringing that nerdy, neurotic innocence of an aimless 29 year old to the film, and his performance, whether at a loss for words or babbling non-stop keeps it grounded in an innocent charm that's perfect. And who knows, maybe he can find some meaning in his boring dishwashing job--maybe finding meaning in the strange patterns and pictures customers draw in their leftovers. Very funny.

FOR SOME INEXPLICABLE REASON plays again Mar 7 at 9:30 pm.

And then a very different film, in an example of the common film festival phenomenon I call "emotional whiplash." THREE WINDOWS AND A HANGING is a drama from Kosovo (their first Oscar submission as a country) and is a story of simple village life, recovering from the war, and opening old wounds with painful revelations. Lushe is a brave woman, a mother and schoolteacher who is waiting for her husband to return (he was dragged away by enemy soldiers long ago.) She also knows something that the rest of the village would prefer remain secret. So when she talks to a reporter, and claims that she and three other women were raped by enemy soldiers while the men of the village were powerless to stop it, that causes extreme tension in the village. It's shameful, too shameful for the village to bear, and so they compound her trauma by initiating a hate campaign against her, taking their children out of school and making it very clear they won't come back until there's a new teacher. Irena Cahani is excellent playing Lushe with strength and vulnerability, and her revelations have reverberations throughout the village that break their traditional ways of life. Lest you think this is only a sad, bleak drama (which it is in many parts) there is also a great deal of humor, starting in the opening scene of three old men arguing about a story one is telling under the biggest shade tree in the village (wait, is it traditional to knock three times and call the name of the head of a household before you come in, or do you call his name three times?) And it's that juxtaposition of the smallness of village traditions and the enormity of her revelations that drives the film. The men are simply much better at dealing with the small, unimportant things, it takes a woman to tackle the big issues.

THREE WINDOWS AND A HANGING plays again Mar 2 at 4:45 and Mar 7 at 4:15

Next up was a long-ish short and a short-ish feature, starting with THE BREATHARIANS. Auggie is a 12 year old boy living on a farm with his dad. And his mom lives in the old farmhouse just across the pasture. His parents are estranged, and they kind of take it out on him. His father by giving him jobs that he knows will piss of his mother (like killing all the cats in the barn, and nailing their tails to a board as trophies.) And his mom...well, maybe she's just going crazy but she's had a breakthrough and realized that she doesn't need to actually chew and swallow food, she "eats" by breathing the air. A very strange film, anchored by a solid performance by young Sawyer Nunes. Also, it fits into an unofficial festival theme I've noticed this year--killing of animals.

And then the feature documentary, SWEDEN'S COOLEST NATIONAL TEAM. That team competes in...memory sports. Memorizing the order of a deck of cards in 2 minutes...or thousands of binary digits in an hour, or spoken numbers, or whatever. As a relatively new sport, it has a niche but growing following, and three time Swedish champion Mattias Ribbing has some competition in the up-and-comers Jonas von Essen and Marwin Wallonius. The trio might also has what it takes to raise Sweden from interesting also-rans in the world championship to a competitor for the gold medal (against powerhouse Germany.) A very funny documentary, but one where the humor never comes at the expense of the eccentric competition or the brain-athletes. In fact, my favorite part is when they explain how memorization is all about making a story out of the things you need to memorize (like a 6 of hearts is a fish...because...okay, I don't get why.) And most of the stories--just because it's the easiest thing to remember--are about sex and violence. But they will never reveal any of those stories because this is such a charmingly chaste movie. And so the comedy really only exists in my mind, as I watch these eccentric mental athletes memorize stuff, but I know they're really thinking the most violent, X-rated thoughts. That's pretty awesome.

THE BREATHARIANS and SWEDEN'S COOLEST NATIONAL TEAM plays again Mar 1 at 1:45 pm

Then a sci-fi post-apocalyptic coming of age story, ASTRAEA. The title character is a teenage girl, walking the empty, frozen wasteland with her brother Matthew. Heading to Nova Scotia to visit her other brother and her grandmother, who survived the "drops" (the cause of the apocalypse is kept a secret for a while, but eventually it's revealed that there was a plague that incubated and spread for months without symptoms, and then the infected just dropped dead--heart stopped--with no warning (come to think of it, like the comic opening montage of FOR SOME INEXPLICABLE REASON.) On the way, they meet another pair of survivors, James and Callie. Things start of tense, with mistrust and guns pointing at each other. But eventually they settle down, start talking, share a meal, and decide that Matthew and Astraea can stay for a day or two. See, James and Callie have set up a house with propane, septic tank, etc. They can live here alone indefinitely. However, they're not a couple--their cousins (this becomes important later, as is the fact that James is wrong in his paranoid speculation that Matthew is an escaped convict and Astraea is his sex slave...just saying.) Well, a day or two becomes weeks...months...maybe they'll head up to Novia Scotia in the spring. Adding a sci-fi element, Astraea might be a bit of clairvoyant, and she knows her grandmother is still alive. So there's a tension between moving on and finding the last survivors of their family and staying and forming a new family with people they know are alive. A great little movie, that does a lot with a white wintery landscape and just four people.

ASTRAEA plays again Mar 1 at 11:30 and Mar 3 at 2:00

Then another short and feature, starting with ADEN, a short that hopefully will become a feature sometime soon. A bounty hunter tries to keep the city safe from a mechanical monster only he can see. A monster created by the imagination of a little boy. Very cool, with some impressive special effects.

And then the feature, THE CENTER. (#ItsNotACult) Ryan has a boring job for a coupon company (but it's much more than coupons!) and troubles with his mom and sister. He's an aspiring writer, working on his novel, but his day job and family obligations keep him from accepting an exciting opportunity at a university. Aimless and seeing a late-night interview with the charismatic self-help guru Vincent, Ryan goes on a retreat with The Center and finds a community that might just be what he's looking for. But then it becomes a lot more. After a period as a rising start, he finds the Center is taking over more and more of his life, he can't even talk to his sister without his superiors observing, and he witnesses how they treat a guy who left the group years ago. Best line of the movie--"It's funny what happens when you believe too much. You end up doing a lot of things you don't believe in." That pretty much says it all. A great, well-acted, and scarily believable story. And fits into another unofficial festival theme I've noticed this year--smoking, and particularly difficulty in getting cigarette lighters to work.

I have to briefly relate my own experience with a group-that-shall-not-be-named (let's just say they're not scientist, and they're not...ologists) trying to recruit me. After an evaluation, they told me that I clearly am too easily influenced by wanting to please others, and they would be very, very sad if I didn't let them help me. I did not join.

ADEN and THE CENTER plays again Mar 1 at 1:30 and Mar 3 at 4:30

And finally, we ended the night with a recently unearthed Canucksploitation diamond-in-the-rough, BAD CITY. A hilarious 70's flick, the evil Dominic Kincaid has murdered the mayor, made it look like a guilt-and-corruption inspired suicide, and seized control of the city. He's also the man behind a new drug that is killing kids, under the cover of his books program, Kincaid's Kid Aids--we give kids...Aids. So it's up to by-the-book cop and ladies man Franky New Guinea to stop this jive turkey with his new partner--plays-by-no-rules super-badass Detective Reverend Grizzly Nightbear. Super groovy. This film was never quite finished, and never released anywhere but Copenhagen, Denmark before it was rediscovered and finally given it's rightful place in the pantheon on Canucksploitation.

Detective Reverend Grizzly Nightbear was there for the Q&A, and I have to say his health plan is phenomenal, he looks like he hasn't aged a day in 40 years!

BAD CITY plays again Mar 1 at 9:30 and Mar 3 at 3:30

Then I took a few friend back to my luxury suite at the Fairmont for some after hours drinking with filmmakers (mostly the gang from THE CENTER) until about 3 am, when everyone was just too exhausted to go on. Besides, I gotta be back to the lounge and drinking by 10.

Total Running Time: 540 minutes
My Total Minutes; 386,178

Friday, February 27, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 3

Once again, up bright and early to watch some movies drink in the VIP lounge. Got there shortly after 10 am, and my first movie wasn't until 1 pm.

First up was the Icelandic film, LIFE IN A FISHBOWL, a multi-story, intersecting drama about broken lives. Eik is a preschool teacher who doubles as a high-priced prostitute to make ends meet. She meets Mori, a once-famous-now-drunk writer, who will be famous and wealthy again when the reviews of his new novel, "Life in a Fishbowl" come in. That novel is about a traumatic experience in his earlier life, and one that will resonate later in the movie. He becomes the babysitter for Eik's little girl, who can't have any sugar (seriously, it could kill her.) It seems like an old, long-haired, long-bearded drunk (wait, that reminds me of someone...) isn't a good choice for a babysitter, but for reasons we find out later he's better than her parents and especially her grandfather. And meanwhile Solvi is a former footballer now making a new career as an investment banker, but facing moral dilemmas as his hard-charging colleague has other ideas about both work and play. Everything comes together in grand, violent, and dramatic fashion, making for an excellent and exciting film.

LIFE IN A FISHBOWL plays again Mar 2 at 4:15

Next up was BEASTS OF CARDO, a Dominican magic-realist piece about a town full of...well, beastly people. Legend has it that Cardo is built of darkness and nothingness, where people are all tied up on marionette strings. Hermes, a talented but vain tailor has just moved to town, and Moira has just moved back from New York where she got her Masters degree but also got a reputation for being a slut. They both live under snide gossip and backstabbing, but when they're alone they find a bit of relief. And then...well, it just goes on for a long time. I loved the ending, but it took too long to get there. It's clear early on that this town is full of awful people and they need to get out. The only question is if one, the other, both, or none will actually escape. And I like how it ended. And this is frustrating to write, because the best part of it was the ending but I don't want to give up any spoilers. But trust me, even if the middle starts to drag, the ending is worth it.

BEASTS OF CARDO plays again Mar 3 at 6:00 and Mar 7 at 4:30 

Then after a bit of time at the Mosaic bar and restaurant for the VIP Soiree, I was back for more movies.

Next up was WHEN I'M WITH YOU, the story of Lea, a wonderfully sweet woman who's in love with her gay best friend. She's also putting up with her brother, who runs with some assholes who are beating and killing gay men in the neighborhood. As her gay friend has a blossoming relationship with a new man, her relationship with her brother is falling apart. And if she admits how much she really loves her gay friend, she might lose him, too. The film is shot in a very intimate, close up style that gets into the inner lives of the characters visually. Everything comes to a head in a climactic confrontation that is tense, scary, and ultimately wonderful. Great movie. 

WHEN I'M WITH YOU plays again Feb 28 at 11:15 and Mar 5 at 2:00

And then I saw MALADY, a movie that I didn't exactly enjoy while I was watching it, but now I can't stop thinking about. A story of death and sex in blurry closeups. Holly is grieving her mother's passing, and her last wish was for her to have children. So she hooks up with Matthew, where they...do their best to conceive. But when she learns that Matthew's mother is ailing, she prepares to go through the same trauma of watching her slowly die. And then it gets weird. No, wait, it was already weird. Little things, like how it's shot in such an intimate yet...searching manner, or how Matthew peels scabs off his hand, keeps them in a box, and gives them to his mother. Yeah, that was very, very weird. It's an unsettling film. And I'm still deciding if I like it. In fact, no, I know I didn't enjoy it, I'm still deciding if I was amazed by it.

MALADY plays again Feb 27 at 10:00 pm and Mar 6 at noon.

Total Running Time: 437 minutes
My Total Minutes: 385,638

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 2

After an epic after-party on Opening night, I was up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the opening of the VIP lounge and a few free beers promptly at 10 am. My first movie started at 2:45.

The first feature of the day was preceded by the Picture the Possibilities short, OUT OF THE CLOSET. Three youngsters reveal secrets about themselves, then come together to form a band. Pretty cool.

Then the feature was an award winning Israeli film, APPLES FROM THE DESERT, a beautifully sensitive drama about a religious orthodox family and their strong-willed daughter Rivka. She's determined to have more from life than the pre-set path of marrying whoever her father chooses (especially when he chooses a 35 year old widower who already has kids) and raising a family. She wants to do crazy, free things...like dance. So when she meets a nice boy from a kibbutz who is in Jerusalem studying, she has a very chaste affair with him, meeting and talking but not even touching. That is, until her father finds out, drags her back home, and locks her in her room. So she runs away and joins the kibbutz. And this causes no small amount of heartache and scandal back home, but she soon she blossoms from a conservative fish-out-of-water on the secular kibbutz (full of ham-eaters!) to an active and popular member of the community. A generational struggle and a conflict of lifestyles, what's most remarkable is the sympathy the story had for both sides. It would be very, very easy to label her father as the villain of the story. But there's a great line in it--while talking to her boyfriend--where he reveals that "everything is always the same--the husband works, and the wife makes fun of him behind his back." In that moment he stops being the villain and reveals that he's as much of a victim of the expectations of the system as she is. And that's the start of reaching some understanding that his daughter's happiness is the most important thing, and to really live by what he constantly says--that he doesn't care what other people say.

APPLES FROM THE DESERT plays again March 6 at 7:00 pm and March 7 at 7:15 pm. And unrelated to Cinequest, SVJFF will be hosting two screenings at 6:00 and 8:30 March 15th at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto. Good, this film is awesome and should have a chance to be seen by as many people as possible.

Then I had time for just a quick two beers before the next film, which was again preceded by a PTP short, this time UNEXPECTED WONDERFULNESS. When all of humanity suddenly loses their voices, petty squabbling turns in to understanding and actually paying attention to each other. With a funny twist ending.

And then the documentary feature, CHILDREN OF THE ARCTIC. Set in Utqiaġvik, which us white guys call Barrow, Alaska, it's the story of a small group of native teenagers just coming of age, and balancing their native culture with western education, globalization, and of course the north slope oil industry. For those who are squeamish about such things, the film opens with one boy hunting and butchering a caribou (and talking about first going hunting when he was 3 or 4.) Later you'll see more caribou butchering and the butchering of a whale. But that's just one aspect of their culture. We also get to see star students go off to college and then decide to come home and put college off to spend more time with their culture and their elderly grandparents. We see another star student and aspiring politician go off to work on the oil fields. We see a spirited school debate for and against offshore oil drilling. And we see the making of seal skin boats, the hunting of a whale, and community celebrations. And we see the effects of global warming as a spring whale hunt is cancelled. It's a really fascinating slice-of-life look into a culture that is rarely seen, and if the young generation doesn't preserve it, might never be seen again.

CHILDREN OF THE ARCTIC plays again Feb 28th at 2:00 and March 3 at 2:30.

And then it was time for shorts, specifically Shorts 2: (Dis)connection
HOME: A Chinese family is seen over a decade through a hole in their wall. From global events like the millennium, Iraq war, and SARS to personal events like opening a restaurant, moving to a bigger home, having an affair, getting a divorce...
THROUGH THE BREAKING GLASS: The adventures of Alice become a connection for a little girl and her mother struggling for life after a car accident. With some beautiful special effects it's easily the most visually impressive film in the series.
CONEY ISLAND DREAMS: Maggie is down on her luck and needs money to return to Ireland. A bad man convinces her to lure a man into a certain spot at a certain time. But after a lovely time with this man, she has second thoughts. And then third thoughts, after a twist ending.
STRANGE MEN: Abby is a drifter, just released from jail after the police let her off early with just an open container citation. She's on her way back home to Washington (from L.A.) when she sees a strange man following her. This leads to an odd confrontation and maybe the start of a reconciliation.
THE BADDEST PART: Two lovers take a road trip, with a goal of robbing a gas station. And there are unexpected results. (You know, I've realized that unexpected results/twist endings are a theme of this series.)
CUPCAKE: Lena and Karin are very, very close. Like soulmates...or cell mates. Until forces beyond their control tear them apart. Powerfully emotional performances.
BARRIO BOY: A pale, young Irish man walks into a Latino barbershop in Brooklyn. The barber has to act all macho, although he's really attracted to this man. Like anyone would believe a hairdresser could be gay.

Shorts 2 plays again Feb 26 at 7:15 and March 3 at 4:30

Shorts 1: Life Constantly Changes Us
LIFE ENDING SPECIALIST: A man with a very stressful job learns how to relax with a bubble bath and the right music.
AUSSI IOIN: Two lovers on the run after a political attack.
CAMELOT: Tracking down a Ford Capri that was her birthright, a young woman learns a few things about hard times.
HAPPY FUN ROOM: In a police state, a woman who lived through the revolution tries to teach children how to be safe, but they can't stop laughing.
LA PRINCESSE DE LAMOUR DAMOUR: The Princess of the Love of Love lives in a world where everyone falls in love. But she hasn't yet. Until she falls in love with a hot salsa dancer...and the princess Lezzy from the neighboring kingdom...and a few more and has a wonderful multi-amorous happy ending. What a beautiful story for children!
LITTLE COFFINS: A man stabs himself, but cannot die. In a diner, he and the waitress talk about their shared past, loves, and loss.
NEWBORNS: A harrowing look at the survivors of acid attacks. Seriously, this is a thing in other parts of the world--to throw acid on the faces of women. That's just fucked up, but this movie was a good, sympathetic look at them.
SAERTO ENA: In 2008, Russia and Georgia had a little conflict. Civilians feared the military on both sides. Seriously, it didn't matter if the soldier was Russian or Georgian, nor did it matter who the civilian was. Threat of death was just always there.

Shorts 1 plays again Feb 27 at 1:30 and March 2 at 10:15 pm.

And that was Cinequest 25, day 2. More films today. Lounge opens in less than an hour!

Total Running Time: 423 minutes
My Total Minutes: 385,201

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--Opening Night

The biggest, bestest party in San Jose started last night, and of course I was there. In fact, I was there a few hours early to check into the lounge, get my VIP pass, have a free drink or two six, taste some delicious chocolate from Marich, and hug all my Cinequest friends.

Then over to the fabulous California Theatre to meet and hug more friends, hobnob a bit on the red carpet, and settle in to my front row seat. Before the films, there were the obligatory thank-yous and announcements, including a couple of shout-outs to yours truly (at least, I assume the reference to a "guy with a top hat and a ZZ Top beard" was me, although for the record my beard is neatly trimmed, it's my hair that's wild.)

But enough about me, the night was about BATKID BEGINS, a perfect way to start what's looking to be a perfect festival. You may remember the phenomenon of Batkid, 5 year old leukemia survivor (spoiler alert, he's in remission!) whose Make-A-Wish was to be batkid for a day, and how San Francisco transformed into Gotham for a day and blew the world away. Well, this is a thorough behind-the-scenes documentary about it. From the dedicated Make-A-Wish workers who only hope to get a few hundred people to show up. To the amazing creative people who just kept building on the idea. To how social media took over and blew it up. To how San Francisco stepped up and brought the full force of awesome to it. How people traveled from all over the world to be in San Francisco for it. And that's not even getting to Miles himself. In fact, I caught myself about halfway in wondering if this movie would even be about him. But when he put on that costume, and he puffed out his shoulders, put on his best crime-fighting face, and did a perfect John Wayne walk, he freakin' OWNED it! That was a transcendent moment of cinema...no, check that, it was a transcendent moment of real life. It was amazing how the city, the Internet, and the world came together to play with a sick kid. But Miles made it worth it, and as one person points out in the movie, the signs of "Save Us, Batkid!" take on a different meaning when you realize he really is saving us, from the dull, serious drudgery of adulthood.

Speaking of playing, Cinequest goes on for another week and a half. Hope to see you all there.

Running Time: 87 minutes
My Total Minutes: 384,778

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Jason goes to Indiefest--Closing Night

And the end, last Thursday night, with a pair of movies.

First up was the perfectly executed drama UNCERTAIN TERMS. Set in a home for pregnant teens, each resident is dealing with different relationship issues...well, since they're all teenagers they're mostly dealing with the same relationship issue--the guy who knocked them up isn't ready for the responsibility and has bailed/will likely bail. And then you add to the mix a handsome handyman, Robbie, who is dealing with his own crumbling marriage (a marriage that started out when he was as young as some of these girls.) He's friendly, but he tries to keep his distance and not be too friendly. But at least some of the girls--with their raging hormones--make that kind of difficult. And he doesn't make it easy either.

...

I just realized how I wrote that seems like the setup for some pregnant teenage fetish porno. But please believe me, it's not. It's a careful, thoughtful movie that explores the inner lives of young women figuring out life in one of the hardest possible ways, and it's fantastic.

And then I ended the night, and Indiefest 2015, with JACKY IN THE KINGDOM OF WOMEN. A French movie that's entertaining although a little bit too on-the-nose about the fictional kingdom of Bubunne where women rule and men are forced to wear burkhas, tend the house, serve the state-provided mush, and basically dream of marrying a good, powerful woman. The best and most powerful would be the Colonel (Charlotte Gainsbourg) which would make one lucky man the "Big Dummy." Jacky (Vincente Lacoste) plays the Cinderfella role in this world, trying to win an invitation to the ball and hoping that the Colonel will take his leash. But wacky adventures turns it into a revolution in the entire society. With a bit of Cinderella, a bit of Barbarella, a bit of Soylent Green, and a giant spoiler.

And that's that, Indiefest is over. Bring on Cinequest!

Total Running Time: 162 minutes
My Total Minutes: 384,691

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Jason goes to Indiefest--The Penultimate Night

Last Wednesday, a shorts block and a feature.

Shorts 4: Based on a True Story. Not necessarily documentaries, but "non-fictionish" as the program notes say.
11-MINUTE MILE: A businessman in the Boston airport, calling his friend to give him grief about his time in the marathon. And the grief turns around when the news reports the bombing at the finish line, and he frantically tries to find out if his friend is okay.
BREAKING IN: A black guy walking down the street, minding his own business, is hassled by the NYPD. That's just part of getting "broken in."
CAB CITY: Ride-alongs with two different SF taxi drivers. The sweet old French lady who is practically a historian of the city. The brash, aggressive driver who is always ready to yell "criminal!" to Uber/Lyft/Sidecar drivers while he speeds off without his seatbelt. Of course, ride-sharing companies are a big topic of discussion, and the film also interviews several passengers about their opinions of them. And there's even a brief ride-along with an Uber driver.
DOCUMENTERS: A story of the citizen journalists of Syria, the only ones who can get the real stories out, since foreign journalists are banned and state-run TV is lies.
ELGIN PARK: Michael Paul Smith has been many things, but most recently he's an artist and model-maker, famous for creating entire realistic worlds of model vintage cars. Really stunningly realistic.
HEIRLOOM: Part road trip, part home movie, Malia Bruker travels with her parents as they return to the small rural community where she grew up, and examine inter-generational notions of hope, idealism, values, nature, family, etc.
TRASHCANLAND: A profile of DJ Dan Cashman, janitor and tumblr star.

And then the feature, BLACK MOUNTAIN SIDE. It draws immediate comparisons to THE THING, and scientists in a frozen arctic land come across a major archaeological find and start to suffer from strange...happenings. Paranoia, self-abuse (and not the good kind) mutilations, and murder. But with a wildly inconsistent tone that left the audience transfixed at some moments and howling with laughter at other and me wondering if that was all intentional. Like when a doctor is talking about internal bleeding when staunching an obviously externally bleeding wound. It never really answers what's going on, and that clearly is intentional, to confound and amaze the audience with mysteries upon mysteries. I'm just not sure if this was ever supposed to be a comedy, and if so whether the audience was laughing at the right parts. It was, however, never boring.

Total Running Time: 193 minutes
My Total Minutes: 384,530