Sunday, February 11, 2018

Jason guess to Indiefest--Day 5

Catching up slowly. Two more last Monday.

First up was Shorts 1: What You Don’t Know About Me.
TWO STRANGERS WHO MEET FIVE TIMES: Over the course of a life, two strangers learn a bit about prejudice and being kind to your fellow man.
TWENTY MINUTES: A 30 year old man with Asperger's syndrome is moving out to his own apartment. It's only 20 minutes away from home, but it's still a big step.
COUNTERFEIT KUNKOO: From India, the story of a woman escaping from an abusive marriage and the difficulty in that culture for a woman living on her own.
NEW NEIGHBORS: A black family moves into an all-white neighborhood. So the mom, always looking out for them, goes door to door to introduce themselves and assure everyone they live in the neighborhood so don't call the cops if you see them hanging around. A pretty uncomfortable way to approach the realities of racism (of course, not as uncomfortable as dying because of racism.)
SEVEN MINUTES TO CLOSING: If an asteroid is on its way to Earth and we're all doomed, how would you spend your final minutes? Looting? Getting drunk? Pricing candy in your convenience store?
OUTLINES: A teenage girl meets her dad's prostitute, and has an interesting heart-to-heart talk.

And then the feature, BLACK CAT, a spoof on true-crime documentaries. New evidence reopens an old case about a car crash that killed a popular actor/director. Duke Moody, an inept childish wannabe filmmaker is making a documentary about it (and has been stalking the suspect for years.) Throw in an obsessed cop who is sure that this chuckle-fuck did it. And then throw in a protective new girlfriend.... well, protective isn't the right word. More like...psychotic. Especially when she learns the truth. It makes for a pretty funny and exciting 50 minute ride. Unfortunately the movie is 85 minutes long. A lot of fun, but another example of what I call a "feature length short"--which are pretty common for independent film festivals. 

Total Running Time:
My Total Minutes:

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 4

Right after THE BIG HEAT, I ran as fast as my fat ass could move to get to Indiefest and RUMINATIONS. Fuck the Super Bowl, I'd rather watch a documentary about a wild and influential drag artist. Rumi Missabu was one of the founders of the famed Cockettes drag musical group in San Francisco. The film is a collage of his life. Art, drag performance, being roommates with Cindy Williams (from Laverne and Shirley, for you millennials out there,) to touching Andy Warhol and even stranger celebrity encounters. The inspiration of the Sunni poet Rumi. The drugs. The founding of the Cockettes. The Cockettes getting too big for their original vision. Fresh bread laced with cum. And then his later years, where he's got health problems but is also the top archivist of Cockettes material, which he is donating to the New York Museum of Modern Art (IIRC) and not to any local queer organizations (for reasons he won't discuss, beyond the fact that 10 years ago he definitely would have, but not now.) It's probably appropriate, given a life that seems to have gone everywhere possible, that it's impossible for me to appropriately summarize it. But I will say, nearly everyone who was interviewed on camera was laughing through every story they told. If you can live a life that leaves everyone laughing about your stories, I think you've done it right.

Then I caught another Indiefest retrospective, PASSING STONES was from Indiefest 2001, back in the pre-Jason days. And I've heard so much about this movie that it was built up to legendary proportions in my mind. And it fucking delivered. It's one of those underground, unpolished, indie films that just don't seem to exist anymore. Leon (writer/director/star Roger Majkowski) is a 30 year old "circulation manager" (i.e., paperboy.) One of his regulars, an old man, gives him his normal Christmas bonus envelope, then goes back inside and blows his brains out. Turns out, he got the wrong envelope. His family (who thought he died years ago) got a few buck. Leon got a ton of cash and a cryptic letter (in Polish) about how the rest of the money in underneath stone. So his fucked up family (him and his abusive brother) meet the dead guy's even more fucked up family--featuring a catatonic mother and a barking crack whore. All leading to buried treasure! Beautiful and insane. I'm so glad I finally saw this. Oh yeah, and the religious content in this movie was just insane.

But not as insane as the religious content in VIDAR THE VAMPIRE, a Norwegian horror-comedy about a devout Christian farmer and his strict mother. Vidar was mocked as a kid, told he will never get a girlfriend. Now as an adult...it's true. So he prays to Jesus to let him feel the pleasures of the flesh, rather than just the pages of a Playboy. And Jesus obliges, turning him into a vampire through an act of irrumatio (Google it, but maybe not at work.) Turns out, Vidar can't quite find a comfortable place as a whoremongering prince of darkness either, and so he seeks the help of a psychiatrist (the framing device of the movie.) It's all a wild, blasphemous ride about finding your own way in the world and how horribly you can twist the words of the Bible. My favorite of the festival so far.

Total Running Time: 255 minutes
My Total Minutes: 468,270

Jason goes to Noir City--Closing Day

Not closing night, since I caught the matinee shows, but let's jump right into them.

WICKED WOMAN (1953): I started with the B picture, because that's just how I roll. Billie Nash (Beverly Michaels) rolls into town on a bus. With barely any money she rents a room in a boarding house and immediately starts looking for a job. Her neighbor Charlie (Percy Helton) is clearly taken with her, and she simultaneously rebuffs and takes advantage of that. She does get a job as a waitress in a bar where she catches the eye of the bartender/owner Matt Bannister (Richard Egan.) Too bad he's married. But good thing that his wife Dora (Evelyn Scott) is a raging alcoholic and Matt doesn't approve. So they start a little affair, with the end goal being to dump his wife, sell the bar, and run away to Mexico (where, presumably, she will dump Matt and live off his money.) One little wrinkle, they need Dora's signature to sell the bar, and it's too much of a sentimental cause for her (it belonged to her father.) So the plan gets more elaborate, until it's cracking at the seams. What could be a super-sleazy story is elevated a great deal by Beverly Michaels, who plays Billie not just as a scheming woman, but one who is desperate and finding her way to survive however she can. It's the world that was wicked before this woman was.

THE BIG HEAT (1953): And then I ended the festival on a high note with this Fritz Lang classic. It starts with the suicide of a cop, Tom Duncan. Honest cop Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) investigates, and it's an open-and-shut case of suicide until the mistress (Dorothy Green) claims otherwise. Investigating further, it seems Duncan had a significant second source of income, but the guys upstairs are quick to but a stop to any investigation of corruption (because, of course, the corruption goes all the way to the top.) He doesn't heed any warnings to drop it, and when a car bomb that's intended for him instead gets his wife, he's on a personal mission to nail the bastards who did it. A twisting tale of revenge and justice, with Glenn Ford as the upright hero, the wonderfully vile Lee Marvin as the second in command baddie, and Gloria Grahame as his ditzy girl and occasional punching bag who fights back at just the right time (to huge applause from the audience.) A great way to end another great Noir City festival. 

Total Running Time: 167 minutes
My Total Minutes: 468,015

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 3

Day 2 and the first half of day 3 was spent at Noir City, but I was back for 3...well, 2 and 3/4...shows on Saturday.

I raced from the Castro to the Roxie right after UNDERWORLD STORY, and only missed the first 3 shorts in the animated shorts program (Yay! Cartoons!) But I did see these:
HOMEGROWN: A sheltered man, who spends all his time in the greenhouse, who is raising his son to be as isolated as he is. But eventually, the sun grows up and you have to let him fly.
STILLPOINT: Abstract patterns, with an unmoving point in the center. Kinda reminiscent of the ending to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (but with computer generated graphics instead of the chemical reactions Kubrick used.)
OH MY...: I don't know. A guy walking...or flying...through an unreal landscape. There's a frog.
SPACE BUTTHOLE: A black...er...brown hole in space is an excuse for a lot of crude fecal jokes. From the House of Chai (FUMI AND THE BAD LUCK FOOT, BEHIND MY BEHIND.)
YELLOW AND RED MAKE ORANGE: A memory of prairie cockfights, in line drawings on what appears to be (sometimes) reused notebook paper, making me think of the poverty of the artist.
THE SERVANT: A kafka-esque little story from Iran, where a man saves a cockroach, the cockroach grows to become his servant, and then grows to resent and rebel against his mistreatment. I'm sure that can be a metaphor for something.
CECI N'EST PAS UNE ANIMATION: A variety of styles illustrates different pretentious animators as they attempt to collaborate on the greatest animated film ever. I'm no animator, so I don't know if this is typical, but the "collaborator's" never actually appear in the same room together. Hilarious.
MEETING MACGUFFIN: Weird stop motion, post-apocalyptic world. Two-headed beings are reusing human parts to try to recreate humans, so far known as "homeys." A lost and found sign leads them to the head groundhog. All makes sense, right?
CITIPATI: Gorgeous computer animated story of a cute chicken-dinosaur as the asteroid comes that will wipe out his entire species. Dammit, don't make me like the cute dino and then kill it!
THE ALLIGATOR HUNTER: A man loses his wife to an albino alligator. So bent on revenge, he hunts it, only at the end to fall in love with it. Hey, we all grieve differently.
FREEDOM: The struggle of expectations at the top of your field, as a wold class skier decides to call it quits and embrace his freedom.
SEINE'S BREATH: Based on a true story about an anonymous woman who drowned in the Seine. Copies of her death mask became a popular item for Bohemian artists, and eventually used as the face of some of the first CPR training dummies.

Then I caught a blast from the past, in the old, old, pre-Jason days of Indiefest. SORE LOSERS was from the very first Indiefest back in 1999. It's the type of underground, no-budget, amateur schlock that Indiefest was born to champion. Blackie (Jack Oblivion,) an alien from the Lo-Fi wavelength, failed in his earlier attempt to kill an exact (10, I think?) number of beatniks. Now he's back from Limbo to finish the job, only hippies have replaced the beatniks. So he teams up with Mike Maker, Kerine (and her rotting mother,) and Goliatha to finish the job. But if they go over the allotted number of kills, they also lose, and mayhem will ensue. Trashy, sleazy fun which often makes no sense and kinda drags at times. But who the hell cares, you don't go to a movie like this to be impressed with solid story structure and tight editing.

And if that wasn't weird enough, I ended the night on TOP KNOT DETECTIVE. An Australian mockumentary about a wild Japanese TV show that only lasted a short time but has a huge cult following. I'll admit it had me going for a little while, but the sad fact is Top Knot Detective (literal translation, Detective Detective Samurai) never existed. But this movie does, and it's a crazy delight. A mythos of epic weirdness, the egomaniacal and talent-less creator Takashi Takamoto built an empire on his story of a traveling samurai who solves crimes through the power of "Deductive Reasoning!!!" Also slashes up a lot of people with his sword, uses a baby as a weapon, flies, fights robots, travels through time.... Basically riffing on all the ridiculous ideas in every low-budget Japanese schlock movie ever. And having a ton of fun, until behind the scenes drama makes it all come crashing down. Excellent.

Total Running Time: 244 minutes
My Total Minutes: 467,848


Thursday, February 8, 2018

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 9

Still splitting time between Noir City and SF Indiefest. Last Saturday I only caught the matinee in Noir City.

SOUTHSIDE 1-1000 (1950): A crackin' good story about counterfeiters and the Secret Service going after them (trivia, the Secret Service didn't start out primarily as bodyguards for public officials. They started as a law enforcement agency specializing in tracking down counterfeiters.) An ace counterfeiter (Morris Ankrum) actually created the fake plates in San Quentin prison. That's the start of the case, as agent John Riggs (Don DeFore) goes undercover as Nick Starnes, working his way all the way up to the boss man...er...woman, Nora Craig (Andrea King.) Passion ignites, but justice trumps passion for the valiant and dedicated men of the Secret Service.

THE UNDERWORLD STORY (1950): And then what's better than dangerous Dan Duryea. In a similar setup to ACE IN THE HOLE he plays a disgraced newspaper reporter looking for another shot with a small town paper. (His name is Mike Reese, who I kept hearing as "My Crease," a possibly intentional play on words indicating what an asshole he is.) Of course, he's Dan Duryea, so he's over-the-top cynical and scheming, buying a share of a small-town paper, making him a business partner of the highly skeptical Cathy Harris (Gale Storm.)  But he ends up on the right side, defending a poor innocent girl Molly Rankin of murder (Mary Anderson, in unfortunate and cringe-worthy blackface.) Sure, he's only doing that to sell papers and advertising, but at least he's on the right side and has the town behind him. Unfortunately, that can change pretty quickly, as the father of the deceased happens to be a big-time newspaper publisher (Herbert Marshall,) and pretty well connected to the mob (in the person of Howard Da Silva.) And even though he knows Molly is innocent, he's still going after her rather than let the truth out, because...[no spoilers here, I've already spoiled enough.] Anyway, what's stranger than Dan Duryea being on the right side? Staying there, on principles, and taking a beating and becoming a hero by the end. Still a scheming son-of-a-bitch, but at least this one time, a heroic one. Now that's a pleasant surprise.

Total Running Time: 164 minutes
My Total Minutes: 467,604

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 8

I hear I missed some great stuff Thursday while I was at Indiefest. I like to think all the Noir City denizens (Noir Citizens) missed out on something great, too. You just can't be everywhere at once.

But I was back in Noir City Friday night for a double bill.

THE ACCUSED (1949): A depressingly timely film, one that's right in place with the #MeToo movement, "Me, too" meant not just that you had been harassed or assaulted, but that you had killed your attacker in self-defense and then tried to cover up the evidence. Loretta Young plays Dr. Wilma Tuttle, a psychology professor. One of her students, Bill Perry (Douglas Dick) offers to drive her home, but instead they end up on a secluded beach where he starts to get a little too forceful. And she fights back, successfully, and makes it look like an accident. Pretty soon Lt. Ted Dorgan (Wendell Corey) is on the case, and Perry's guardian Warren Ford (Robert Cummings) is hanging close by. And both of them kind of fall for her (especially Ford.) Of course, this whole time she was acting in self-defense, so even as the evidence starts damning her, she has a solid defense (I'm no lawyer, but I assume self-defense was a pretty good excuse, even in 1949.) But then the ending is a little off-putting, with more of a note of "darn, we'll never convict her because she's pretty and sympathetic" rather than "attempted rapist got what's coming to him." Ah, the fun and pitfalls of judging films by the standards of different time periods.

THE THREAT (1949): And then Charles McGraw, being evil and nasty. He plays Red Kluger, an escaped convict from Folsom prison who has sworn revenge on the cop and DA who put him there. The cop is brave, smart, and dashing Detective Ray Williams (Michael O'Shea,) the DA Barker MacDonald (Frank Conroy.) Along for the ride is a showgirl, Carol (Virginia Grey) who Kluger suspects ratted him out. And so he gets them all and keeps them captive in a remote shack in the middle of nowhere, beating and torturing them because a quick death is too kind. You know, a real feel-good family film, full of tension and testosterone, but relying on a smart woman to save the day.

Total Running Time: 167 minutes
My Total Minutes: 467,440

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Jason goes to Indiefest--Opening Night

Indiefest and Noir City overlap this year, causing me to make some difficult decisions over the weekend. But I had to be at opening night.

The opening night musical party started with STUCK, the film adaptation of a hit musical. Set inside a New York subway car, it starts with the train stopping, and everyone being stuck for a while. People from all walks of life have to just...sit there. But of course they don't. They talk, they fight, they sing, they get to know each other. Oh yeah, most importantly they sing, that's worth saying twice. The setup is pretty gimmicky, but the music is catchy enough and the characters are fully developed enough to transcend the gimmick and make you care about them. Each one starts as kind of a stereotype, but the point is to look beyond the stereotype and get to know each one of them as people. Who knows, maybe some of them might even stay in touch after the train starts moving again. That was fun.

Now I had been up since 5 a.m. for work, so I was a bit hesitant about staying for GIRL WALK//ALL DAY, a 71 minute dance party which I had seen before (mostly, I confess I dozed off a bit when it played back in 2012.) But I did want to see all my Indiefest friends and stuck around for at least the beginning. And ended up still there at the end, and even dancing along with the enthusiastic crowd. Great event for opening night. I don't think there's any way I can keep that energy up all festival.

Total Running Time: 161 minutes
My Total Minutes: 467,273