Thursday, March 26, 2015

Jason goes to CAAMFest--Day 6

Just one film last week Tuesday, but it was a doozy and my favorite of the festival, Lav Diaz's STORM CHILDREN: BOOK ONE. For Lav Diaz, this was practically a short, clocking in at under 2.5 hours. Now, I have no idea how to convince anyone that the black and white, mostly wordless documentary about about survivors of super-typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines is the best movie ever. Oh, and I haven't even mentioned that it was almost all in long, static shots. I know, it sounds boring, and I've talked to other people since then who thought it was boring. But they're wrong, it's brilliant. Children walking around, playing in the garbage, picking out plastic bottles, while the world around them rebuilds from the devastation. But the long, static shots and the way he frames them create a sort of...I don't know what to call it, but it's an opportunity to be keenly aware of the act of watching a film...truly watching, not just waiting for what will happen next. There are layers in his composition, and for a while you'll watch the kids...then the cars on the street...then the ripples in the water...then the windows on the house in the background...then the tree swaying in the breeze behind that. And after he spends about 2 hours creating this, he breaks it. He has the kids talk (about how their homes and families were destroyed by the storm,) and he even follows them on a walk along the beach (a moving camera in a Lav Diaz film! Shocking!) And it ends with an amazing tableau of kids climbing all over abandoned ships to jump into the water. Yeah, I don't know how to convince anyone that this movie is freaking brilliant. And I'm not sure I want to, since so many will probably disagree. But I loved it. I've only ever seen his 4.5 hour NORTE, THE END OF HISTORY before, but now I want to see his really long films, like the 11 hour EVOLUTION OF A FILIPINO family.

Running Time: 142 minutes
My Total Minutes: 391,431

Jason goes to CAAMFest--Day 5

Dangit, I've fallen way behind on my blog...again. This is from last week Monday.

First up was SHE LIGHTS UP WELL, Joyce Wu's feature length follow-up to SCREAMING IN ASIAN. She directs and stars as Sophie, a struggling actress in New York who takes a temporary hiatus to return home to Detroit and live with her parents. While there, and thanks to her grandmother (Tsai Chin) she gets involved in the local amateur theater group and their production of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado (full disclosure, I followed this project and contributed on Indiegogo when it's working title was THE REAL MIKADO.) And gets involved in local politics surrounding shutting down the community theater due to budget cuts. We meet an odd and charming cast of local actors (played mostly by local community theater actors) and see Sophie go from a partially defeated failed New York actress to a take-charge, successful community theater director and star...sort of. There are comic mishaps along the way, of course. And I realize I wrote that really badly, like it sounds like a big step down. But the end result is she discovers that fulfillment can be found in unlikely places of community, and that's pretty damn cool. And the movie is funny and charming.

Then I saw PARTNERS IN CRIME, a beautifully shot schoolkid murder mystery drama. Huang, Yeh and Lin are schoolmates but not really friends. They discover the body of a schoolmate, and things take off from there. While officially ruled a suicide, the boys start investigating it themselves as a murder. Well, they each start investigating it on their own, but sure enough the effort brings them together as unlikely allies. A smart crime drama, and an interesting look at school culture in Taiwan (especially the bullying aspect.) But most of all, I remember how beautifully it was shot.

Total Running Time: 169 minutes
My Total Minutes: 391,289

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Jason goes to CAAMFest--Day 4

4 more movies last Sunday.

First up was OFF THE MENU: ASIAN AMERICA, by festival favorite Grace Lee (THE GRACE LEE PROJECT, AMERICAN ZOMBIE, AMERICAN REVOLUTIONARY: THE EVOLUTION OF GRACE LEE BOGGS.) This time she's taking on Asian American identity through food. From the sushi king of Texas--who does a lot more than sushi...and a lot more than Japanese food, but at least it's Asian! To the tofu king, also in Texas. Or kimchi burgers. Or a Sikh temple that serves food for anyone who comes by (it's a Sikh tradition, and it's kind of killing me that I forgot what it's called.) Or new fusion restaurants in New York. It presents food both as a way to connect to your culture but also to express your individuality. And here in America there's a strange tension between traditional dishes and the fusion of the great melting pot. Personally, I'm all about fusion. One of my favorite things I used to get at the Indian grocery store I used to live near was jalapeno and nacho cheese samosas. They're exactly as good as they sound, and to me they taste like America.

Then a more sobering documentary, with THE KILLING FIELDS OF DR. HAING S. NGOR. Dr. Ngor is most known here for winning the Oscar for best supporting actor in THE KILLING FIELDS. But before that, he was a survivor of the Cambodian holocaust, and saw horrors that make the movie pale in comparison. He was killed in 1996 outside his Los Angeles apartment. Officially it was a robbery and he was shot when he refused to give up a locket with a picture of his late wife My-Huoy (who had died under the Khmer Rouge.) But there are still conspiracy theories that he was assassinated by Khmer Rouge sympathizers. Anyway, this movie covers pretty much the entirety of his life, based on his own memoirs. From being a wealthy doctor in Phnom Penh (where both he and his wife had their own Mercedes and driver.) To the underpinnings of corruption in Cambodia that led to the Khmer Rouge taking control. The first few days of excitement that at least they can't be worse than the previous regime. To that all falling apart, and the years of abject horror in the jungle. No food, frequent beatings. Even a crucifixion (yeah, the guy was literally crucified, and survived it.) To the escape and 20 miles of mine fields to the Thai border (out of ~200 that joined him on the journey, 17 survived.) His was truly a harrowing life, but one he survived to make a life for himself in America, work with refugees, and sort of randomly be cast in a movie for fun. And the rest, as they say, is history. But history that will live for hundreds of years, and should never be forgotten.

And then the centerpiece program, MARGARITA WITH A STRAW. Laila is a student at Delhi University. She has friends, is a lyricist for a school rock band, and she has sever cerebral palsy. She goes to study in New York, where she meets and befriends a blind Pakistani girl. Oh, and they become lovers. Although she also has sex with a boy. Oh yeah, and her mom has cancer. Yeah, trying to describe it makes it sound like the movie is trying to set a record for the most dramatic buttons it can push--disabled rights, bisexuality, intolerant parents, India-Pakistan conflict (although the politics isn't featured,) cancer...but it doesn't feel like that when you're watching it. Anchored by excellent performances by Sayani Gupta (who I was surprised to learn is not actually blind) and especially Kalki Koechlin (who I was surprised to learn is not actually disabled) and a smart script, this transcends all the emotional hot buttons to be a sweet, tender, and smart story about people. Just...people.

And finally, the night (and the weekend) ended with MY FAIR WEDDING. Specifically the wedding of film director Gwang-Soo and his producer and long time love, Dave. Ah, yeah, gay marriage in Korea. Nope, it's not legal. But it's a huge media circus and spectacle. And that's intentional...and kinda puts a strain on their relationship at times. But it's all fun as the gay community comes together to throw them an amazing public party. At times the editing leading up to the festival is choppy and head-spinning (probably evoking how they felt at the time) but when they get to the actual wedding, the crowd and spectacle is fabulous. And just a couple of protesters who actually break in and try to disrupt things. So...hundreds (thousands?) come out to celebrate and only two object? Not bad, now if the laws can just catch up. I would have liked to stay for the Q&A, as the two lovebirds were there in person. But it was late and I had to catch the BART home.

And that was the first weekend at CAAMFest. I'm slowly catching up...

Total Running Time: 337 minutes
My Total Minutes: 391,121

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Jason goes to CAAMFest--Day 3

After skipping opening night and day 2, I was up in Japantown for a day off films, mostly shorts.

The first program was Flipside, films that show a different perspective.
D. ASIAN: The perspective of a little boy in 1986 who wants to identify as Asian although he looks white. Turns out he has a pretty compelling case.
DANDEKAR MAKES A SANDWICH: The perspective of a man in a supermarket who makes the most of the free samples. Turns out he has a good reason.
GIVE IT UP: The perspective of a stand-up comedian who jokes about being bad at relationships, drinking a lot, and having a small penis. Turns out he's at least telling the truth about the drinking.
HYPEBEASTS: The perspective of teenagers waiting overnight for the hottest new sneakers to go on sale. Turns out black and Asians don't get along, especially when cutting in line is involved. Things escalate quickly.
MY HOT MOM GANDHI: The perspective of a couple deciding what to wear for Halloween. Like should they do something political like white-face? Turns out they decide it's a bad idea even though it got the best laughs in the movie.
N. KING: The perspective of a couple of Hawaiian youth plotting to rob a store. Turns out at least one had some moral qualms and makes an important decision.
THE OTHER SIDE: The perspective of the hero cop (white guy) taking on a gang of bad guys (all Asians.) Turns out, when you get a glimpse of the other side, thinks aren't so black and white (or yellow and white.)
WOMAN IN FRAGMENTS: The perspective of a dancer who is technically talented but not expressive enough on stage. Turns out it takes a little vulnerability to be a better dancer.

The next program was Family Ties, shorts about family.
COLD SPRING: A father learns his estranged daughter is getting married, and tries to get back into her life and get invited to the wedding.
GIAP'S LAST DAY AT THE IRONING BOARD FACTORY: A loving tribute to the filmmaker's mom, a Vietnamese refugee who settled in the American midwest and made it her home, working for decades in an ironing board factory.
JAYA: Inspired by a true story. A young Indian street girl, posing as a boy to avoid being raped and forced into prostitution. She and her friends run pick-pocketing schemes while she searches for her real father.
MAMA TANG: An old woman in San Francisco tries to hold on to her Chinese way of life while her Americanized son is too busy for her.
MY FATHER, FRANCIS: A documentary about filmmaker Casey Mecija's father who works in a factory but has some time during breaks to make stuff--chairs, toothbrush holders, etc.--with recycled material in the factory. A sweet look at a couple of makers making stuff together.
TO SIT WITH HER: Without being able to speak the same language, a trans-male and his Vietnamese grandmother still share a sweet bond.

Then the next program was Short Shorts, shorts that were programmed by the Short Shorts Film Festival in Japan, and they brought their best here to CAAMFest. I don't want this to sound like a criticism against the CAAMFest shorts programming team, but this was easily my favorite of the shorts programs I saw. So...take that as a compliment to the Short Shorts programming team instead.
IN THE TREE HOUSE: The story of a family where everyone has their own agenda and their own little world. And then it's all disrupted when mom decides to take an unannounced trip, leaving them enough food for a few days. By the time she's back, they're much closer as a family.
AN INNOCENT BEAT: In a world where children aren't allowed outside except to go to school, one girl travels to the forbidden zone, with dangerous levels of radiation. And there she finds something amazing about stopped clocks and heartbeats. Mind...blown.
A SOCCER STORY: Kids playing soccer on Kozu Island (technically part of Tokyo.) When one player on the opponent's team gets injured, a benchwarmer switches sides and gets his time to shine. But friendship and team loyalty get tested.
STROBOSCOPE: A guy just trying to return a briefcase to a police station gets roped into pretending he's a movie director taking people on a location scouting tour of Ibaraki Prefecture. A clever story with a lot of twists and humor.
TWO JULIETS OF VERONA: When the Verona (formerly girls-only) school of culinary arts and nursing gets its first male student, their annual musical gala is set as Romeo and Juliet, and it becomes a crazy competition with surprising results.

Then I took a brief break from shorts to see a feature documentary, TOP SPIN. It follows the path to the 2012 Olympics for three young American athletes--ping pong players (okay, "table tennis" if you wanna get technical.) Ariel and Lily are both from the Bay Area (if I recall correctly, Ariel is from Fremont/San Jose, and Lily is from Palo Alto.) Michael is from New York, and the youngest U.S. champion ever. They're all ping pong prodigies...by American standards. That's the thing, Table Tennis is one of the few Olympic sports the U.S. has never even won a medal in (along with badminton and handball) and one that China absolutely dominates. So...I guess no surprise that Lily and Ariel are both Chinese-American (Mike, on the other hand, is about as white as you can get.) Cool, whatever, they were born here, live here, play for America...they're as American as I am, and I probably wouldn't even mention it if it wasn't in an Asian-American film festival (well, that and one throw-off laugh line in the film about Mike being white.) Anyway, back to the film. It shows the difficulties of balancing training, school, and a social life. And it shows how they put absolutely everything into being the best. As for the Olympic trials...well, you could watch the movie and have the experience I did of watching it unfold as if it was happening right then...or you could look up the results online somewhere. It doesn't really matter, what's important is this was a fun, engaging movie with some very likable young people and a positive outlook about the future of U.S. Table Tennis.

And then back to shorts, with Falling, shorts about love, for good or for bad.
AFTER US: After a breakup, a woman's inner voice talks her through the pain, recovery, and ice cream until she's ready to go out there again.
COMFORT GIRLS: This music video uses comedy to explore the harsh realities of Korean "comfort girls" in WWII, and the harsh realities for women today trying to make men happy (like plastic surgery and a submissive demeanor.)
IF YOU LIVED HERE, YOU'D BE HOME ALREADY: A question of love, home, and marriage as a long time marriage that has fallen into a routine is shaken up when the wife goes to a open house.
MISS GUIDANCE - EP. 4: PERSEVERING: An episdoe of the webseries. In this one, part-time guidance counselor Nilly resists a mandatory social event. Things are awkward until she meets a guy. To be continued?
NEXT LIKE: A funny short using social media to describe different types of women, while a guy gets over his breakup with the help of his soon-to-be brother-in-law.
NO NO, HOMO: Two guys out at the movies...the matinee. They're the only ones in the theater. But is it a date or just a couple of guys watching a movie. The only way to find out is to reach for something other than the popcorn.
SEED OF NEED: A woman has traveled the world, had adventures and romance. But she hasn't found herself. Not until she lets go of everything.
TOUCH OF ESSENCE: And old couple, both with health issues, near the end of their lives. Each makes a last attempt to do something for the other. A beautiful, tender look at the tail end of a life of love.
TRAMP: A beggar in the Seoul subway gets a big surprise from a visitor from his past.

Total Running Time: 469 minutes
My Total Minutes: 390,784

Friday, March 13, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--Encore Day and Closing Night

It's finally over. The writing, that is. Not the beautiful memories.

4 more movies last Sunday, bringing my in-festival total to 58, a new personal best (note: I have surpassed that in a combination of pre-screeners and festival screenings before, but this is a new personal best for movies actually seen in the festival.)

First up was the Chinese business drama FACTORY BOSS. Lin Dalin is the director of a toy factory in Shenzen. They have gone several months with no work...which means no ability to pay his workers. In desperation, he accepts a major order from an American toy company. Which is great, they're going back to work. But to deliver on time he has to cut corners. Too much overtime, insufficient safety measures, etc. He basically turns the factory into a sweatshop--and still can't fully pay his workers until the order is delivered. Well, an undercover reporter exposes him, a woman gets sick on the fumes in the paint shop, and his workers go on strike. We've all seen reports of sweatshop conditions in China and elsewhere around the world. This movie shows it from the factory owner's point of view. And it portrays him as a decent, caring man who is doing what he has to to survive, and to provide jobs for hundreds of workers. And when things finally come to a head...well, he tries to do the right thing, as best as he can. But the truth (that is touched on but passed by quickly) is that it is the big businessman ordering from him--at a major discount and with a short deadline--who is far more insulated from his actions than he should be. Full of plausible deniability, he tries to lay the blame on his assistant (a black man, not to subtly becoming the sacrificial sheep.) I applauded when he stood up and took his boss to task, telling him essentially "You knew how low that bid was, you knew what that meant, and you took it anyway." A fascinating, brilliantly acted story that sheds more light on what exactly "Made in China" means.

Then it was time to see the BARCO Escape Shorts Program. BARCO Escape is a system of screens in a movie theater (can be installed in a regular, pre-existing theater) for creating a more immersive experience. And while I had quietly been mocking it as the return of Polyvision it's a bit more sophisticated than that.

First some thoughts on the technology itself, before getting to the content we saw. This had been set up in Screen 10 of the Camera 12 for basically the whole run of the festival. So I walked past it frequently, noticing how it drastically narrowed the aisles near the front of the theater, and how the extra screens were masked with what looked like fake walls you can lean against but you really can't. The safety officer part of my brain triggered on that. Then when I walked into the theater on Sunday with the two side projectors running, the noise was noticeable. What I'm getting at here is although it's designed to go into an existing theater, it will work better in some than others (and theaters built specifically for it would be ideal.)

The other thing I noticed is that although marketing pictures of the panoramic views on the three screens show them melding nearly seamlessly together, the setup they had there did have black curtains masking a small strip between the screens. The presenter did say that this is a work in progress, and this is definitely something they're looking to improve. So actually I don't want this to sound too much like criticism. I really appreciate that BARCO is doing its R&D in public. Whether that's a smart business strategy we will see.

Finally, just a comment on how I liked watching it. First of all, I always sit in the front row anyway. I'm looking for an immersive experience. And I love that they're looking to enhance the immersion without sacrificing the communal experience of the theater (it would be easy for everyone to just slap on goggles and watch immersive content at home, but I crave the communal theater experience.) The other thing I noticed is that I vastly preferred it when the three screens were showing different content, not when they were forming one panoramic shot. When it's panoramic, I tended to focus on the seams to see how well they "connected" and that's the worst part of the image to focus on (perhaps my background as an image quality expert for a medical company played some part here.) Playing three different (but related, of course) scenes on the three screens made for a much more engaging experience for me. Come to think of it, what if you played three completely unrelated scenes on there? That would make for an interesting experimental experience.

Anyway, now on to the experience. And this is not in order:
Clip of THE MAZE RUNNER: I have never seen THE MAZE RUNNER, but it has been released in BARCO Escape format with selected scenes expanded to three screens. But I didn't think this clip worked all that well. The action was all still on the center screen, with the side screens filling out more of the maze, but not really adding too much.
Red Bull footage of skiing/paragliding: Okay, this was actually really cool, and made great use of both the panorama and the three separate views formats. I could definitely see action sports documentaries being a big use of this format.
Concert/Rave footage: I forget the name of this piece, but it was actually pretty cool. Using the immersive technology (I really need to find another word for "immersive") to put you inside a giant rave. Pretty cool.
BURNING MAN: Interesting footage of that thing in the desert, from building the massive art projects to building the city to the variety of people there to burning it all down at the end and packing the remnants home. A fine film and good use of the format, although I generally don't like Burning Man documentaries. That's just kind of my thing. I've been going to Burning Man every year since 1998--longer than I've been going to film festivals. And Burning Man docs never tell my story. They all tend to be awe-full (pun intended) worship pieces about the great art or mind-blowing experiences. They never tell you about being drunk, dusty, smelling like ass, and feeling even worse while yelling obnoxious things at naked passers-by. You know, my Burning Man.
THE 9TH HOLE: A comedy about a girl going to prom, her dad, and her date. Amusing, and featured my favorite scene in the whole program for using the three screens. Dad and date sitting on couches facing each other on the two side screens, while the middle screen...is blank. Elegant use of negative space to show the chasm between the two of them.
WITHDRAWAL: A powerful story of a father helping his estranged daughter kick heroine. As they fight and she goes through the spasms of withdrawal in the center screen, the side screens are used to tell their backstory. It does get a little bit like a flood of information, but that just means it's bound to reward multiple viewings. So...where can I see it again?
CANTEEN: Post-apocalyptic world. Danger everywhere. Nothing more dangerous than running out of water, though. Good use of the three screen format, too.
LADY GAGA AND TONY BENNET IN CONCERT: This was a sneak preview of a feature-length concert film in the works. Great use of the three screens, and with this and her Oscars performance, Lady Gaga seems to be making a strong case that she's a legitimate, serious musician.

So that was really cool, and I'm looking forward to how this concept and technology evolves over time. But I had to run off for my next movie (after another drink in the lounge, of course.)

And that next film, my penultimate film of the festival, was NO EVIDENCE OF DISEASE, the greatest words that a cancer patient can ever hear. The film is an inspirational look at the doctors treating cancer. Specifically, gynecological cancer (you know, cancer of the lady parts.) They're also rock stars, and their band (playing benefits to raise money for GYN-cancer, which receives much less funding than prostate cancer alone...just saying) happens to be called No Evidence Of Disease (which they abbreviate as N.E.D., which must be cool/confusing for anyone in the audience named Ned.) The film also follows several patients, with outcomes ranging from the hoped-for N.E.o.D. to the...not so good. Moving, and powerful, one of the points the movie makes is that a positive attitude is very important to surviving cancer, and these doctors do heroic work fighting it on a medical and spiritual level.

And finally, after one last drink in the lounge, it was off to the closing night film.

After a talk and Maverick Spirit Award presentation to legendary producer Mike Medavoy, we settled in for 5 TO 7. Anton Yelchin plays Brian, a struggling writer in New York. And then he sees Arielle (Bérénice Marlohe) and crosses the street to talk to her. He's immediately intrigued, then quickly smitten, then a bit confused when she says she's available every day from 5 to 7. Turns out that's something of a French/upper class code for "I'm married, but my spouse doesn't mind if I take a lover as long as I come home every night." In this case her husband is the French ambassador, and he has his own lover and she's practically part of the family. And so they start an affair that forces him to break all of his rules, and eventually it gets so intense that he...well he tries to get her to break her rules, too. A smartly written, finely acted story of an intense love affair that has to end eventually leaving only the sweet memories remaining. Kind of like Cinequest.

And then it was all over but the drinking. The after party was at The Glass House, and everybody got 2 drink tickets. But because I know everybody and have something of a reputation everyone was slipping me extra tickets. So I drank until near midnight. Hugged everyone in the room (yes, including Anton Yelchin and director Victor Levin,) had a ton of laughs, took a few flipbook pictures, maybe ate a snack or two. And finally got home a little after midnight, just to go back to work the next day.

And then over the course of the week it finally hit me that it's really, really over. Well, except for writing up the end of it. Which now is...over.

Total Running Time: 346 minutes
My Total Minutes: 390,315

ps: At least CAAMFest started up Thursday, to keep me from getting the film fest DTs.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--The Penultimate Day

5 more movies last Saturday, and another 4 on Sunday. It's all over now but the writing.

First up an animated short LOVE IN THE TIME OF MARCH MADNESS. A funny and poignant look at a 6'4" women's basketball star, and her awkward love life dating shorter men (because she just can't find guys taller than her.)

That was the lead-in to THE YEAR WE THOUGHT ABOUT LOVE. And I'm pretty sure if I hadn't been so exhausted, running on whatever you run on when you've run out of fumes, I would've felt so many feels my heart would've exploded and I would've died.

That's a horrible way to review it (especially using "exploded" in a movie with a scene at the Boston Marathon bombing.) Let me start again...

THE YEAR WE THOUGHT ABOUT LOVE is an amazing, beautiful, incredibly moving film about a theater troupe of LGBTQ (if I missed any letters, I'm sorry) youth in Boston. They tell their stories of love, acceptance, and struggle for acceptance (thankfully, more of the former than the latter) over the course of a year while creating this powerful and cathartic stage show. Beautiful and inspirational. There, that's better.

Next up was SHORTS 7 - Something Funny. Hooray, laughter!
DE SMET: A new neighbor provides a chance at romance that breaks up the best cigarette-rolling, card-playing trio of single guys ever.
DONATIONS: A woman finds the man of her dreams working in the blood bank. Sure, it took her a few tries to get him to draw her blood, but sacrifices are worth it for a chance at true love.
FIRSTWORLDPROBLEMS: Beautifully short, hilarious, and to the point. Sometimes mothers just worry too much.
THE FLY: The getaway driver is foiled by an annoying insect. Absolutely hilarious.

I have to pause and mention that there was someone in the audience laughing uproariously through the whole program, but none more than this one. It was a piercing, horror-movie kind of laugh punctuated with "Holy Shit that's funny!" He kind of became part of the show, and it was awesome. I wish I could've found that guy.

GRAND ZERO: It's not a cult...it's a multi-level marketing opportunity. But a son doesn't necessarily want to inherit the downstream from his parents.
HOW GUYS' THOUGHTS RUIN PERFECT RELATIONSHIPS: Perfectly to the point, a guy's inner monologue of stupid complaints destroying his perfect relationship.
LATE SHIFTERS: Two convenience store workers on the midnight shift listen to conspiracy radio and meet an eccentric customer who might just be an interdimensional space alien disguised in human form.
LEONARD IN SLOW MOTION: Leonard lives in slow motion in a regular-speed world. But maybe a massive overdose of energy drinks can cure him? The best use of slow-motion gold vomit ever!
LORD OF CATAN: Some people take Settlers of Catan waaay too seriously. Hilarious mayhem ensues.
NEW SOUL: A new soul just about to be born. Larry Miller as the exit interviewer preps him for his new life. He gets to make some choices, but race and sexual orientation are up to chance. Otherwise everyone would be gay Samoans, and if we were all gay Samoans there would be no more gay Samoans. Sorry I gave away the best joke in the short, but I couldn't resist.
TUNING OSCAR: A couple agrees that if she dies, he will wait at least two years before dating anyone else. Almost two years after her death, he's still afraid to cheat on her.

Then I actually had time to go the the Soiree at San Pedro Square Market and see the announcement of the jury awards. Congratulations to all the winners! And while I'm at it, since I'm writing this a few days later, congratulations to the Audience Award winners, too! And heck, congratulations and thank you to all the filmmakers who brought their work to Cinequest, especially the ones who had a drink with me!

Okay, now back to our regularly scheduled blogging.

Next up was SHORTS 6 - Docunation. Hooray, real life! (I ended up seeing every shorts program except #9, the high school student shorts.)
BEYOND RECOGNITION: Native Ohlone (not a federally recognized tribe, which is kind of a travesty) activists fight San Francisco Bay Area sprawl, particularly building shopping malls on their burial grounds. For real, this happens.
ELGIN PARK: As I said at Indiefest, 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.
HOTEL 22: The VTA bus route 22 is the only 24 hour bus service in the Silicon Valley. And at night, for $2, the homeless and destitute can sleep for an hour or two. A sad look at the poorest people living in one of the richest parts of the world.
LOOKING AT THE STARS: Blind ballerinas are freakin' awesome!
LUCHADORA: And so are female Mexican wrestlers!
RARE TEA CELLAR: A look at a shop selling rare teas and other treats, and its proprietor Rodrick Markus.
SEVEN WAYS FROM SUNDAY: Audio descriptions of life, with stuffed animals in strange conditions.
SUGAR COATED: Lolita fashion in Los Angeles. It's about being cute and fun, not about sex. Right? Ignore the fact that it's named after a famously smutty pedophile book, it's not about sex.

Okay, then it was time for HEART STRING MARIONETTE by Cinequest alum M. Dot Strange. There's an interesting story behind how it came to Cinequest, which you can read here. And for that matter if you want to know what I thought of his first movie, here it is:
And finally, the midnight mixed-media animation "We Are the Strange". Set in the world of a video game of the same name, with characters like "Blue", a girl who's skin turns to scales if she talks, smiles, or opens her mouth; "Emmm", a little doll boy on a quest for ice cream; "Rain", a cloaked, flamboyant monster-killer; and "Him", the pure E-vile overlord of stopmo city. For the first half, it's sort of a WTF trip, like watching the world's dumbest/craziest video game play with itself. And then eventually there's a story that takes over, in the form of giant robots battling each other. Pretty f-in' cool.
Okay, cool.... Well, HEART STRING MARIONETTE also feels like watching a video game. But this is a game about an avenging samurai an an evil clown. And either I was really tired, I have less patience for gratuitous weirdness, or this movie was worse that WE ARE THE STRANGE because this time rather than "pretty f-in' cool" I would say "that was pretty f-in' exhausting." Oh, well.

And finally, the midnight movie, THE HOUSE ON PINE STREET. This was pretty f-in' cool. It starts by looking like a pretty standard, very well done haunted house movie. Jennifer (pride of San Mateo Emily Goss) is seven months pregnant and moving with her husband Luke from Chicago to her old hometown in Kansas. And she doesn't like it. She had a good life and good friends in Chicago. In Kansas she's under the control of her domineering mother, who seems to have teamed up with Luke to keep her under control. Then strange things start happening in the house--like doors slam shut or furniture moves around. The acting is excellent and the sound design keeps the tension perfect. And as the story unfolds I realize this is much, much smarter than the typical "haunted house" flick. The ghost...or energy...or whatever is in the house isn't the real monster. The real monster is isolation. I really felt for Jennifer living there all alone. No friends in town. Her husband doesn't trust or believe her. Her mother doesn't trust or believe her. When her best friend comes to visit for a bit...it's nice for a while, but eventually apparent that she doesn't trust or believe her either. Now...there's a backstory that drives all of this, but I can't spoil that.  Nor can I spoil the ending, which I'm still kind of puzzling over (in a good way.) And I'll also mention that there's a possible political reading of it, as it's kind of a horror movie about how when a woman gets pregnant she's no longer able to make her own decisions about her own body. But mostly I want to say how it's a great, smart, and very professional-looking horror movie with excellent performances. But don't just trust me, there are other much better written and also glowing reviews here, here, and here (full disclosure, that latter one republishes my reviews often) and Emily Goss did win the Best Actress Award at the Fargo Film Festival. So I'm not the only one who thinks it's great!

Now the one reason you might not trust me is that I've drunk with the filmmaking team all week and even led the Q and A after the film. I've been at Cinequest for 15 years, but this is the first Q&A I did. We talked about the making of the film, the impressive sound design, and the funniest thing that happened on set (life lesson--skin tight unitards can be see-through in bright light) until eventually the theater manager kicked us out, since it was daylight savings time so we lost an hour during the Q&A and it was not after 3 a.m.

Then I was back to the penthouse of the DeAnza to party until about 5 a.m. with whatever friends and filmmakers could keep up with me. Then up again for Encore day starting with drinks in the lounge at 10 am, because I'm a fucking rock star!

Total Running Time: 539 minutes
My Total Minutes: 389,969

Monday, March 9, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 11

Another 5 shows on Friday. For those keeping score at home, that makes my total so far 49. Which means I'm unlikely to hit my goal of 60. But I have a good shot to break last year's record of 57, depending on the Encore Day schedule.

Anyway, my Friday started with IN THE COMPANY OF WOMEN. This was a movie that I was primed to hate, and did for about half of it. A young, handsome, escort is given one night and one last big paycheck to help elderly college professor Peter get laid. So they go to the clubs, the escort uses his skills, moves, and expertise to get women to talk to Peter, and then Peter continually fucks it up by being an old-fashioned gentleman who prefers to talk about conservative notions of romance and monogamy. But then what the heck is he doing trying to pick up chicks? Well, over the night we learn more about him, and about the escort, and...without giving too much away it goes from a sort of situation I was primed to dislike to characters who are good enough that I ended up liking them and liking the ending. So stick with it, even the characters and situations seems annoying at first...they redeem themselves by the end.

Next up was SEA HORSE, the other post-apocalyptic journey through the wilderness in the festival (the first being ASTRAEA.) Beautifully shot in the woods outside Seward, Alaska, it's the story o f a few women (and one Walrus Man) traveling to the sea for...some reason. I didn't quite understand a lot of the motivation in the movie. There's a lot of distrust, fights, etc. It's definitely one of those movies that you have to fill in the blanks yourself. But at least it was beautiful to watch while I was mystified by it.

And then the even that is always one of my favorite events of the festival, the Silent Cinema at the California with Dennis James rocking the mighty Wurlitzer organ (which he calls the only perfectly restored Wurlitzer he has ever played.)

This year's silent feature was King Vidor's THE CROWD. John Sims was always told by his father that he would grow up to be someone special. So he becomes one of the 7 million people who are sure New York City would collapse without him. That despite just being one of hundreds of clerks for his firm, and not one who is moving up the ladder quickly. His friend Bert convinces him to blow of studying and come party at Coney Island with him and a couple of girls. Which is how he meets his wife Mary. So before his ship has come in he has a wife, a kid, and some in-laws who hate him for not earning enough. And then...well, I don't want to give too much away because for some reason I still care about spoilers for an 87 year old film. But it's a brilliant, moving, subtly acted and still relevant movie about struggling to make it in the big, cold city. And it even provides its own applause at the end.

And then I caught BOOZE, BOYS, AND BROWNIES. Boy, I really wish this was less auto-biographical because I found the main character really, really, really annoying. Vivian (writer/director Veronica Mannion) is a struggling actress in L.A., drinking a lot and obsessing over one of four different guys at a time. That and working on a one-woman show, although you rarely see her writing or rehearsing. Oh, and it's a musical, but I don't really care about that either. I saw the movie because I had a drink with her in the lounge. So I've completed my duty, but it doesn't mean I have to like it.

And finally, I ended the night with a midnight screening of Shorts 5: Mindbenders. Hooray, my mind was bent!
BURNT GRASS: Bent my mind when that girl got all duplicated.
DANNY AND THE WILD BUNCH: Bent my mind with how sometimes the characters you write do what they want to do, not what you think you want them to do.
THE DETECTIVES OF NOIR TOWN: Bent my mind when the puppet detective tried to solve the Rubik's cube, and realized how hard that is in black and white.
ECDYSIS: Bent my mind when...umm...not much happened. And I think I fell asleep.
IN EXTREMIS: Bent my mind when the night watchman found something disturbing behind the brick wall.
LOVE AT LAST SIGHT: Bent my mind with how fucking rapey it was, then how murdery it was, too.
SOLO FINALE: Bent my mind with opposites--old and new, light and dark, and upside-down dancing.
TURN OF THE SCREW: Bent my mind when that guy found a loose screw and searched everywhere to find what it came from. It's like a scene from my own life.
WIEN FOR LIFE: Bent my mind when the wrong guy won the lottery, and everything went downhill from there. Hilarious.

Then I had a few filmmakers back in my penthouse suite at the DeAnza Hotel. Partied until about 4:30 am, and was still in the lounge by 10 am for the first drink of the day. That drink was coffee.

Total Running Time: 506 minutes
My Total Minutes: 389,430