Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Jason Watches LOGAN

And it's really good. Brutal, but good. Maybe the best comic book movie ever...except that it's arguably not a comic book movie. In fact, it explicitly takes place in a universe where X-MEN comic books exist, as some sort of pop-propaganda for their adventures. Which makes me wonder...is this in the same universe as the previous X-MEN movies, or in a universe where they exist as movie?

Anyway, Logan is a very special man, the only one who can save a little girl with special powers. Special powers that make the powers that be very interested in her. They want her as a weapon. But if not that, they want to destroy her....  Wait a minute....

Maybe I just finished Cinequest, and my mind is still there, but isn't this kind of a rip-off of PRODIGY?

Running Time: 141 minutes
My Total Minutes: 423,441

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Jason goes to Cinequest--Closing Night

After staying up partying until ~4:30 am (with the help of Daylight Savings Time...grrrr....) I was still up at 10 am for the first Stella in the VIP lounge before heading off to IMITATION GIRL. It's a beautifully lyrical story of two girls, who are kind of the same girl, and who are both leading an artificial life. One is an alien. As in, a spaceship landed in the desert of the American southwest, black ooze came out, and took the form of the first person it saw--the cover girl on a porn mag. That girl is Julianna Fox (at least, that's her stage name) and she's desperately trying to get a break and act in more respectable roles. The alien version has to learn the basics of her new body--how to eat, drink, everything about life, and a kind family of Iranian immigrants take her in and take care of her. Her basic naivety is a stark contrast to real Julianna's world-weariness. And then they start seeing each other in the mirror. The whole thing plays out like a dream, but with gentleness, grace, and love that never judges its characters. Instead it offers humanity a valuable gift--an outsider's perspective.

Then I skipped a movie in favor of resting up...and drinking more in the lounge.

And then for some laughs, with the mockumentary KING OF THE BELGIANS. Narrated by the cynical English director Duncan Lloyd, it starts as a travelogue of King Nicolas II of Belgium traveling to Turkey for a diplomatic ceremony. But while he's there, there's word of a domestic crisis, possibly bordering on civil war. So he has to return home. But then a solar flare knocks out air travel communications and their cell phones. So with his small entourage and the documentary crew, they have to go through a series of wacky adventures, lost in the Balkans, trying to find their way home. Totally hilarious.

And then, after another drink or three in the lounge, it was finally time for the closing night film. But first, they showed a few of the short film jury winners.

CARD SHARK: The story of a little boy playing poker with his goldfish is still hilarious.
HISTORY OF MAGIC: ENSUENO: This animated journey of a girl biking through West Texas is stll hilarious--although I saw it at Indiefest, not at Cinequest.
PERFECTLY NORMAL: This documentary of a high-functioning autistic man with a strong imagination shows his struggle but also his successes at creating a stable life. Powerful and moving. And I hadn't seen it before, so that was really cool. (I have a lot of Cinequest short film screeners to catch up on.)

And then they brought back one of my favorite things from Cinequests past. They invited all the filmmakers who were still present up onto the stage so they could all get a standing ovation (although, they needed to improve their communication--some of the filmmakers who were up in the balcony were sort of caught by surprise.) They announced a few more of the jury award winners, including my new friends from PAINLESS winning the New Visions award (tied with PROM KING 2010, and they were both great movies so I can't complain about that.)

And then finally, the closing night film.

THE ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE is based on a true story and directed by Niki Caro (WHALE RIDER.) Dr. Jan Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh) and his wife Antonina (Jessica Chastain) are custodians of the Warsaw Zoo. And they've done a great job, but the Nazi invasion throws a wrench into everything. First, the zoo is bombed and many of the animals run away (so yeah, at one point there's a tiger prowling around Warsaw.) Second, the zoo is under the control of chief zoologist Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl) In the beginning, he insists he doesn't care about politics, only about zoology. And he has a crazy idea to bring the extinct aurochs back to life through a specialized breeding program. But, of course, he's also a Nazi and is certainly prone to abusing his power to get what he wants...like Antonina. But the more important plotline is how Jan and Antonina work with the resistance to smuggle Jews out of the ghetto into the zoo (hiding them under the garbage they use as animal feed) and then on to safety. It's the sort of amazing story that you'd be inclined to dismiss as Hollywood fantasy (especially the ending,) except for the fact that it really did happen (although I wouldn't be able to speak to some of the particular events.) Anyway, a nice, uplifting film to elevate the end of the festival (and I'll refrain from commenting on any lessons it might give us for fighting fascism today.)

And then off to the closing party at the Hyatt. More snacks, lots of drinks, a melted cheese fountain, a  silly video with a great example of how not to drive there (both in terms of drinking and not keeping your hands on the wheel.

Well, the only problem with that party was last call was some time around 11 pm to midnight. And a heck of a lot of us still wanted to party. Luckily I planned ahead, for an after-after party at the Fairmont, where we once again stayed up until about 4 a.m. And a great time was had by all!

Thank you everyone for a great Cinequest 2017!

Total Running Time: 329
My Total Minutes: 423,300

Jason goes to Cinequest--The Penultimate Day

Cinequest has been over for about a week. I guess it's time to write up the final days.

So Friday night ended with me staying up with filmmakers, friends, and assorted Cinequestarians until about 2 a.m. But I was still up bright and early for a few drinks in the VIP lounge before my first event, the first of two Maverick Spirit Awards, this one honoring Fred Armisen.

We started with a replay of the hilarious short THE 11 O'CLOCK. I love this crazy movie. A psychiatrist treats a patient who thinks he's a psychiatrist. And since the regular secretary is out this morning, we don't exactly know who's who.

That had nothing to do with Fred Armisen, other than it was hilarious. Sal Pizarro interviewed him, and he was hilarious. He reminded me of something Woody Allen used to say about comedy. The audience doesn't want you to tell jokes, they just want you to be funny. If you can do that, you can read the phone book and they'll laugh. Well, Fred didn't read the phone book, but I would see a one-man show of him just listing things you can buy with money. Like clothes. You can go to a clothing store, try on clothes, decide you like them, and then pay for them...with money. Or real estate, you can buy a home. And you can move in there, keep your stuff there, and there's no landlord, because you own it. Or you can travel, like to Italy. (For some reason, Fred thinks San Jose is a lot like Italy. Which is cool, I guess.)

I also really liked that our other Maverick Spirit honoree, Jane Lynch, decided to show up and see his show. And then they started designing a car. Or rather, a car horn. One with different sounds for different purposes, because so far all car horns sound angry. There should be one that's gentler. Or one for "hey, I see my friend!" Or one for "hey, that wasn't me honking at you, that was the other guy. He's the a-hole." If available, I would get that car horn installed. For money. That's another thing you can buy with money!

Okay, then back to movies, this time in Denmark/Sweden (filmmakers are Danish, but shot in Sweden) with SECLUDED, featuring what I consider the best cinematography I've seen in the whole festival. It's a tense dramatic thriller about a family that looks perfect on the outside but is being torn apart by secrets. Sarah and her parents are on their way to a vacation in a remote cabin in the wilderness. On the way there, she learns that a sex tape of her was made at a party where she was very drunk. And apparently it's circulating online. And then they get too far out in the wilderness and she loses cell reception. She's not very far off when she declares that her father would kill her if he found out. It turns out her sex tape is not the only family secret, and over the week out there, more secrets come out and things go from happy family to tense to dangerous really quick. Director Anders Fl√łe has made his feature debut something very special, and he will be a talent to watch I hope and assume for a long time.

Unfortunately, the audience was rushed out of the theater for the next event, so the Q&A was in the lobby. But a good crowd followed there, and they all had positive things to say about the film. I just wish they had the honor of doing the Q&A on the stage of the California Theatre.

That next event was Maverick Spirit Award, this time honoring Jane Lynch. Another hilarious person, and poked a little fun when interviewer/Cinequest co-founder and President Kathleen Powell made a poorly-worded question about her "box." I have to say, as well as being a great actor and a very funny person, I've really appreciated how Jane showed up for a couple of days in the festival, how she showed up to the Soiree the day before, and how readily she'll pose for a picture with a fan (even though, for the record, I didn't even ask for a picture. I just wanted to shake her hand and thank her for coming.)

Also, she's an Intrepid Audience Member, so that makes her extra cool!

They also showed her new short film, WRITER'S BLOCK. Jane Lynch plays a songwriter with bad case of writer's block. Andy Kindler is hilarious as her nagging agent, and they skewer some of the culture and cliches of the entertainment industry. Then a little birdy helps her out. No, literally, she copies the melodies of a songbird. So she has to take care of that bird really, really well. Very funny.

And then I just kept staying in the California Theatre, this time for THE ASSIGNMENT (listed in the program as (RE)ASSIGNMENT, which I like better.) Walter Hill's latest is a twisted comic-book tale starring Michelle Rodriguez and featuring a scene of her penis. Actually, it features full frontal nudity of her with both male and female equipment, which is weird and kind of unsettling. She plays Frank Kitchen, a hitman who looks too much like Michelle Rodriguez in drag for it to not be distracting. He kills the brother of stone-cold Dr. Rachel Kay (Sigourney Weaver) who is a wealthy plastic surgeon who tracks him down, and...does him a favor...by freeing him from the constraints of macho, toxic masculinity. Yeah, she gives him a forced sex-change. And he doesn't appreciate it. And he's back for revenge.

Okay, I have to comment a little bit on the controversy around this movie. It has drawn the fire of those who say this plot is offensive to those in the transgender community. And Walter Hill was there and spoke afterward about how it's nowhere near his intention to make fun of anyone in that community. I can see that. There's really no transgender character in the whole film. It's a film about genital mutilation surgery, the guy that happens to is pissed about it, and the doctor who performs it is certifiably insane. Oh yeah, the movie opens with her in a strait jacket being interrogated by a psychiatrist (Tony Shalhoub, being typically excellent.) I don't know how to emphasize more "this character is crazy!!!" And I think that's important in watching this film, it is explicitly, intentionally filtered through an unreliable, insane narrator.

Whatever, it's far from a perfect movie but I had fun with it. Controversy be damned.

Then I just called it an early night, went back to my hotel room, read a few chapters in the Bible, had a nice glass of warm milk, and went directly to bed. Ha ha, no! I went to the Maverick Meetup at SP2, which went on until most people were ready to go to bed, but the die-hard few went back to my room and partied until something like 4:30 a.m. because we're all rock stars at Cinequest!

Total Running Time: 200 minutes
My Total Minutes: 422,971

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 11

Friday, the start of the final weekend. And my Friday started with WEDNESDAY, because that's what Cinequest does to me. From Iran, WEDNESDAY is a reference to the execution date for an unseen man. He killed another man, and the grieving family has waited years for justice to be served. Now the only thing left is for them to actively choose to execute him. To kick the stool out from under him and hang him. Complication--he's an in-law, and the question of whether to kill him or let him live the rest of his life in prison is causing a rift in the family. Especially when you add the further complication that the newlyweds are expecting a baby. A powerful drama told through arguments and debates on honor vs. mercy, and the notion of what, ultimately, is right.

Then a couple more drinks in the VIP lounge, and my first experience with VR. I watched a short documentary called UNDER THE NET from the United Nations Foundation's Nothing But Nets Campaign. You can see life as an 11 year old refugee in Tanzania, and how mosquito nets save lives. And it's a good documentary, but I'm not convinced VR adds anything to it. That is, it would still be a good documentary with a powerful message as a traditional movie. Putting it in VR means I can move my head around and see...things that aren't in the center of the screen. Which is typically...pointless. It's cool technology, but in a movie the director, cameraman, and editor make very distinct choices about where to look, and in VR that choice is given to me. And I'm an idiot about that. I understand how it could work for games or immersive worlds, but watching the film I was very aware that I was using the technology to look elsewhere than the intended object of focus. Maybe I need more practice at watching VR, but for now I just don't think it's my thing.

Then I caught a series of shorts at the Hammer Theatre, and finally met up with my brother-from-another-mother, Chris Garcia. And when there were some technical difficulties, I even had to get up there and vamp with him for a bit. That was fun...but unfortunate. And that's another story. Here are the films of Shorts 3: The Truth in Art
A DAD: Absurdity, art, a collage of found footage, to celebrate a dad's 100th birthday. Or is that Dada's 100th birthday. Voice-to-text can get really weird, when the text is not really text. I want this film as an unplayable blu-ray sculpture!
ALICE: A Korean-American dancer with big dreams.
ART OF COURAGE: A documentary about large scale aerial artists, who make pictures and spell out messages by positioning people on the ground and taking pictures from the air. Overtly political, and when the terrorist attack in Paris happens, they have to adapt to keep their art going.
BAE: Strange. Just really fuckin' strange. But kind of awesome.
NO PLAN B: A film about a filmmaker making a pitch to make the film...that is her film. Did that make sense?
REAL ARTISTS: Highly engineered animation, perfected for your enjoyment, through the power of AI.
THANKS FOR COMING: A serious actor vents about the vapidity of the casting process, with a twist.
THE JOHN SHOW:An art show featuring nothing but portraits of one man. John Riegert. An artist, an entertainer, and a man suffering from depression. So it's not just an art show, it's a way to save his life. At least...they hope. A beautiful film from Cinequest veteran Julie Sokolow (ASPIE SEEKS LOVE, Cinequest 2015)
THE PUPPETEER: A dancer explores her Indonesian cultural roots.
THEATRELAND: Ushers in a West End theater, living so close to the dream of being on stage. Maybe a young actress will get a break.

Then I was over to Gordon Biersch for the VIP Soiree, a couple of beers and a little food, then on to one of the annual highlights of the festival, the silent film. This year the selection was FLESH AND THE DEVIL, which I had first seen just a couple of years ago at the SF Silent Film Festival. Let's see what I said back then:
FLESH AND THE DEVIL (1926): Then we saw the classic that turned Greta Garbo into a star and kicked off her romance with John Gilbert. And while Garbo is a force of nature (or maybe even supernatural) in this movie, the story is really a love story between two men--friends since childhood Leo and Ulrich (Gilbert and Lars Hanson.) They're in the service together, cover for each other, get punished together, go home on leave together. Ulrich's little sister has the hots for Leo, and hopes they'll get married someday. But his eyes fall on Felicitas (Garbo) and from that moment he's doomed. Oh sure, they have a nice little affair...until her husband comes home. This leads to a duel, which leads to Leo killing the husband, which leads to him having to leave overseas for a few years. Trusting Ulrich, he asks him to take care of Felicitas while he's gone. Well, Ulrich does more than that, he marries her! And then things get really interesting. If there's anything that can break up a long time friendship between two guys, it's a girl. And when that girl isn't just any girl but Greta Garbo at her vampiest best, then there's no hope. After all, if the devil can't get to you through the spirit, he'll get to you through the flesh.
Yup. I still agree with every word. Especially what a force of nature/supernatural Garbo is. The only thing to add is how absolutely astounding it was to hear Dennis James rocking the might, mighty Wurlitzer organ at the California Theater, with a traditional, period-accurate score. It doesn't get better than that.

Then I popped in to the Maverick Meetup at Mosaic for a little bit, before I was back for one final film.

DO NOT DISTURB was the short that played before THE NIGHT WATCHMEN, and I had arrived late and missed it before. A man checks into a rundown hotel. He has a large trunk, and the elevator is out so he has to drag it to the 7th floor. But finally he has a chance for a little rest. But the couple next door is fighting and his attempts to get a little peace and quiet take some very dark turns. Very cool.

Then back for another drink or...several...at Mosaic, and when that party broke up it was up to my suite at the Fairmont to keep the party going until...I think about 2 am? I don't remember the exact time, but there were a lot of happy Cinequesters there, and now I'm committed to seeing SECLUDED today at 2 pm.

And that's the last Friday of Cinequest 2017. Time to put on a shirt and go to the lounge and drink my breakfast.

Total Running Time: 315 minutes
My Total Minutes: 422,772

Friday, March 10, 2017

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 10

Four more films on Thursday, my final day in Redwood City. I'll be in downtown SJ all weekend.

I started off by getting there early enough for a little libation and food courtesy of Margaritas. So I was nice and relaxed for my first film.

THE NURSE, from Turkey is the story of the unlikely relationship between a revolutionary on a hunger strike and his timid, overweight nurse. If they ever reveal the revolutionary's cause, I missed it, but he has been transferred from prison to a hospital because his determination in his hunger strike is strong enough that it will kill him. While the doctor pleads with him and threatens force feeding, she's just there to take his vitals. Timid and non-threatening, she's just doing her job, and he's...okay with that. They learn a bit more about each other's personal lives. She tries to get him to let his mother see him. He tries to get her to leave her abusive husband. It's a quiet story of two people connecting, and finding something simple and true inside the complicated world around them.

Then I had a good bit of time between films, and since I had already eaten, I wandered over to CRU Wine Bar for a few glasses of red wine and to check out the pleasant location where the official Cinequest meetup would be later that night.

Then I was back for the Norwegian film, PYROMANIAC. In the small village of Finsland, Norway, there's an arsonist on the loose, or so it seems. The small fire brigade is overworked, and people are fearful. But it's not a mystery to the audience. Pretty quickly our suspicions are confirmed--it's Dag, the enthusiastic member of the fire brigade and son of the chief. So rather than a mystery, it's a drama about what motivates him, and how those closest to him will respond to the clues that eventually point to him. For all the beautifully filmed infernos, it's really a small, quiet, human drama, and very well done. Plus, of course, beautifully filmed infernos.

Then one of those blood-boiling documentaries, WHAT HAPPENED IN VEGAS. Director Ramsey Denison normally works as an editor for cop dramas. His whole worldview is that cops are the good guys who catch the bad guys. He's friends with cops. He's the furthest thing from a cop-hater. So on a mini-vacation after finishing a job, he's shocked to see some brutal police behavior outside a casino in Vegas. Thinking this is an isolated incident, he calls 911 to report it. Next thing he knows he's roughed up by the same cops and thrown in jail for three days (charge: resisting arrest.) So...he starts digging into other incidents from Las Vegas Metro Police Department. The movie mostly focuses on three murders committed by cops. But there are smaller incidents as well. And the real story is the "blue wall," the cover-ups, the character assassinations, and the corrupt, arrogant attitude from the top that anyone shot by a cop must have deserved it. The movie gives the audience some hope, too, introducing some good cops who are sick of their sheriff Doug Gillespie. Tops among them is Larry Burns, who advocates community policing to form partnerships and trust with the community. His approach led to a dramatic decrease in violent crime in what had been one of the worst neighborhoods in the city. And so he runs for sheriff. And he has community support. He has support of 96% of the police union. But he doesn't have support of the big money casinos, who prefer someone who will keep any scandals under wraps. (Okay, let me pause and note, I'm really just parroting what the movie told me. I don't know all the intricacies of Las Vegas politics, but they make a compelling case.) Well, this election was in 2014, so it's not exactly a spoiler that Burns lost narrowly to Gillespie's hand-picked successor. It is still kind of a punch in the dick, though. It offers a vision of a corrupt police department, and a vision of how to clean it up. But not a lot of hope that will happen anytime soon. (It also doesn't get into the question of how common this is across the country, but that's a much, much bigger story.)

And finally, I ended the night with PAINLESS. You'd think living without pain would be pretty cool, almost like a superhero. Well, this is a real condition and is far from a super power. In fact, as rare as the disease is, it's even rarer to see an adult with it, for the simple reason that so many don't survive past childhood. They just injure themselves because you don't learn not to touch the hot stove if it doesn't hurt. Or you don't stop running when your legs hurt and they break. Or you don't stop poking your eye and you lose it. Or you lose your tongue because biting it doesn't hurt, it just tastes deliciously salty. But that's a different story. Our hero Henry has the disease, and has survived to adulthood. He's survived by being cautious, to the point of being a shut-in. He must check his vitals regularly. He makes sure to put ice in his hot food to avoid burning his mouth. He walks carefully, avoiding putting too much stress on any part. He's also a scientist, studying his own condition trying to find a cure. And he's well studied in pain. He can watch someone and diagnose them simply from their motions, how gingerly they move in certain ways, indicating what hurts, indicating what disease they might have. A mysterious scientist offers a partnership that could greatly aid his research (the doctor, we find out, has the opposite condition, suffering from constant pain.) Turns out his regular doctor has a history with this scientist, and urges Henry to stay away. Henry is torn, but determined to finish his quest without distractions. Then a major distraction comes into the picture. Shani is a cute barista, and they meet when she spills scalding coffee on him in the subway. And for the first time in a long time, he awkwardly tries to connect with another person. A potential distraction from his life's work, but possibly an opportunity to put his life's work aside and start living his life's...life? For science nerds like me or anyone fascinated with rare conditions, there's plenty of food for thought here. But the romance--and the quest for self-acceptance--is the real heart of the movie. And it has a fascinating and sincere heart. Plus it's just beautifully shot with some great acting, especially Joey Klein as Henry, who really captures the subtle physicality of not feeling pain (paradoxically, but looking pained everywhere, all the time.)

PAINLESS has one last screening, Fri, Mar 10 1:45 PM in Redwood City. Hey, that's only in a few hours! Hop to it!

Total Running Time: 352 minutes
My Total Minutes: 422,455

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 9

Cinequest has been pretty darn generous with the press screeners this year. So that alleviates a lot of the complications of trying to see as much as possible in a split-location festival. So first off on Wednesday, on the most exclusive screen at Cinequest (my living room wall) I saw the short SUBCULTURE. A very funny short about a guy who goes to his therapist and it takes a very dark and twisted turn. Okay, it's about BDSM. But it goes even further than traditional sessions. Very funny, and featuring big baby Jed Rowen (THE GHASTLY LOVE OF JOHNNY X, Cinequest 2012, DRILLER, and ZOMBIE FARM, Holehead 2007)

SUBCULTURE plays with the feature THIS IS MEG Thu, Mar 9 6:15 PM in Santana Row and Sat, Mar 11 10:50 AM in Redwood City. So inconveniently, locations I don't plan to be at those days. But hopefully I'll also catch the feature on the most exclusive screen in Cinequest.

Then it was time for another full, rewarding day in Redwood City

The first show started with the short GLOWWORM, directed by Laina Barakat, producer of ONLY DAUGHTER, Cinequest 2013.) A beautiful little film about loss and what's important in life. Emma's grandfather passed away, and left her the family farm in New England. She goes there just to see it before paying her respects and then selling it. Which is a shame, because loyal farmhand Pedro was hoping to stay on, but it looks like he'll be out of a job. That is, unless he convinces her to stay. Nicely done.

And that was the lead-in to THE HONEST STRUGGLE. Darrell Davis was a promising young musician. He just got involved with the wrong type of people in Chicago and wen to jail--3 times, totaling over 20 years. There he converted to Islam, changed his name to Sadiq, and as he's released form jail, is moving into a re-entry home of Muslims with a determination to make the right choices and stay out of trouble. Thing is, as a 3 time offender, as a black man, and as a Muslim...it seems like he has to make 100% right choices and even then, it's hard to stay out of trouble. People hassle him. Guys from his old life contact him, try to convince him to go back to the gang life. An "honest struggle" is right, both in that it is honestly a struggle and a struggle to stay honest. A powerful personal documentary, that makes my own privileged struggles seem so easy. I've made some bad choices, but in my situation, I estimate I only need to make the right choice about...60% of the time to avoid totally fucking up my life. Sadiq has to make 100%, and that might not even be enough.

GLOWWORM and THE HONEST STRUGGLE play again Sat, Mar 11 10:30 AM in Santana Row

Then some tasty libations at another fine Redwood City establishment, this time Margaritas and back for another show.

EXILED is easily the darkest film I've seen this year at Cinequest (I know someone will point out a darker one, but my schedule is biased in terms of films with filmmakers I drink with, which tends to cut out the really dark stuff.) In World War I, shell-shocked soldiers were kept in mental hospitals. When Dr. Ulrich arrives at one in Latvia, the inmates start screaming when they see his uniform. To keep a modicum of peace, all reminders of the war must be removed. These people are in really bad shape, and live in really bad conditions. And that's before all the horrible stuff starts happening. A feral kid, an approaching, abusive unit of their own army. It all unfolds like some terrible nightmare which you can't wake up from. Very well made, but I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

That was the last screening of EXILED. Sorry, it's getting to be that time in the festival.

Then I had another leisurely break between films, so I sat down for a little vino and a little dining at Donato Enoteca with Robert E Kelly, an associate producer of GLOWWORM. Lovely man, lovely place.

Then I caught a work-in-progress screening of QUEEN ANNE'S LACE. As a work in progress, the sound definitely needs some touch-up, and I don't know how close this is to the final edit. But it's enough to tell a compelling story. Jane...needs a little bit of time away from her husband and daughter. Or at least her husband. She's a poet, and sees herself as that. He loves her, but sees her as a wife and mother, and poetry as a hobby. That's probably not the only problem they have, but in any case she needs a little break and decides to go spend some time at her aunt Jackie's house in the country. Which is all well and good, until she falls in love with someone else. That someone else is the local kayak instructor, and she's a woman. Jane had experimented with women in the past, and maybe this is her real orientation. Or maybe it's a fling, and she's just hurting her daughter. Is it selfish? Is it what she really wants? It's never quite answered. It's more about how unanswerable and painful some of these question can be. It's shot in a low-res, Dogme 95 inspired style, with an often voyeuristic eye peeking at the characters through trees or porch railings. It's kind of like the conversations are so intimate that we're kind of breaking a taboo by watching and listening in.

That was also the last screening of QUEEN ANNE'S LACE, but maybe the finished version will come back next year?

And finally, I ended the night with THE DUNNING MAN, by some of the funnest drinkers at Cinequest 2017. To "dun" is an old term for collecting a debt. Early on, our hero Connor Ryan approaches a door with loud meowing inside, and opens it to reveal a room of furries watching a guy dressed as a bear fucking a woman made up like a cat. Then we rewind a bit. Connor Ryan, after failing in New York, is back home in Atlantic City, trying to make a go of it. All he has left is a few apartments he rents out in a shitty condo complex. We will soon find out those furries are renting one of them. Except they're not paying. And they're connected to some illegal business. In his other apartments, there's a lovely single mother with an abusive on/off boyfriend and an upstairs neighbor who parties too loud (and too explicitly sexually) for her or her darling daughter to sleep. That upstairs neighbor is a rap star, working on his second album (his first was huge, so it's a little weird he's renting from such a shitty complex, but he's got his reasons.) Connor's life is kind of a hurricane, as he's just trying to collect the rent so he can pay off a few debts and maybe fix the air conditioning...but they won't pay rent until he fixes the air conditioning. So he's got to use his few connections and his fuckin' Irish stubbornness to become a hero 'n shit. A fun, wild ride. One of the funnest films I've seen this year at Cinequest. 

THE DUNNING MAN plays again Fri, Mar 10 2:20 PM

Total Running Time: 343 minutes
My Total Minutes: 422,104

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 8

Four more shows on Tuesday, starting with my first two screenings at Santana Row. A beautiful theater in a trendy complex with lots of great drinking and dining. But I didn't really have time for that, I had back-to-back films and then a Lyft back to downtown for a soiree and two more back-to-back films. 

The first show was a quietly moving pair of films about relationship struggles. In the short MUSCLE, a wife whose husband is terminally ill struggles with the decision of whether to live for his final days and moments, or to live for herself, especially when sitting on the washing machine just isn't enough. Even when a good single malt scotch isn't enough. Excellent at using the quiet, unspoken moments to convey the emotions. 

Similarly, for all the talking in it, the feature WILDERNESS was at it's most powerful in the silent scenes (that might be my affinity for silent films peeking through.) John is a jazz musician, and jazz music infuses the film, and in a way so does the improvisational nature of jazz. I don't actually know if much of the film was improvised, but it's about the improvisational nature of a new-ish relationship, this time with Alice. Feeling each other out. Hoping they're "the one" but terrified that it won't work. I've written before about how a hallmark of a great Cinequest film (or great films in general) is "emotional honesty," and this film has it. In a Hollywood film, there would be a big, dramatic reason for their fight, instead of little things and the honeymoon bloom of new love just wearing off and fading against more realistic concerns. In this film, I can't put my finger on any particular reason they won't work (and not because I had too much to drink in the VIP lounge earlier.) It's just little things. Nothing that is...or should...be a deal-breaker, but little indications that they might even love each other but not be right for each other. Small things, and inadequate or unthoughtful responses that just add to the strain. And now I'm rethinking my statement about how beautiful the silent moments are. Because isn't communication the key to a relationship? Is enjoying the silent moments...part of the problem? I have to end this before I start overthinking my own relationship.

MUSCLE and WILDERNESS plays again Thu, Mar 9 7:00 PM in Redwood City

And then I stuck around Santana Row for PROM KING, 2010, which is another relationship movie with a very different style but also emotional honesty...even if the emotions are a little overblown (and that's part of the point.) Charlie is a new college student, a hopeless romantic, a movie lover (undoubtedly part of his hopeless romantic problem) and a young gay man in New York. Over his four years in college, he falls in love, gets his heart broken, commiserates with his friends, and starts all over again. Actually, it starts before college, with his high school boyfriend who was tragically...Mormon. Nothing against Mormons, they're just horrible people who ruin lives (that's a line from the movie, please no hate mail.) His friends keep assuring him that his turn at romance will come. And it does. And then it goes. And then it comes again, in kind of a parody of Hollywood romantic cliches. But it's sweet, and heartbreaking. I cheer for him every time he meets a new love, and I'm heartbroken for him every time it doesn't work. He such a like-able, relate-able character that I really felt for him. And, just for the record, for whatever it's worth, I am straight. This movie is just so good that anyone who has the capacity for empathy will empathize with Charlie. Or, anyone who has been lied to by Hollywood and finds reality isn't at all like Hollywood romance. 

Also, for the record, Grace Kelly and Clark Gable only ever appeared in one movie together. I've never seen it, but considering that she plays a cheating wife, I suspect it's not a great example of a romance you should hope for in real life.

PROM KING, 2010 plays again:
Wed, Mar 8 9:30 PM at the Hammer Theatre
Sun, Mar 12 6:20 PM in Redwood City

Then back to downtown for time for just one drink at the soiree in SP2, then dashing off to the Hammer Theatre for YOU ARE MY SUNDAY. Hey, let's keep the love train moving! Arjun is a really nice guy. He's also the de facto leader of a group of friends who play football (i.e., soccer, for us Americans) every Sunday. But Arjun is such a nice guy that when they bump into a senile old man, he brings him along, at least to keep him safe. But he joins in, and causes an incident that forces the beach to ban sports, so now they have no place to play. He also takes the man home, where he meets her lovely and overworked daughter Kavya. This will become the main romance of the film, but having their Sundays free allows everyone in the group to...well, either make some positive changes in their lives or have a total nervous breakdown. It's a very funny film, with a lot of like-able characters, and a view of Mumbai, India as a complicated, urban environment where tradition and modernity makes everything...just so complicated. Also, there's like, no room for anything, especially a football match. But there's just enough room for a little romance.

YOU ARE MY SUNDAY plays again;
Sun, Mar 12 6:20 PM at the Hammer Theatre
Fri, Mar 10 7:10 PM in Redwood City

So...what happens after one love movie, then another love movie, then a third love movie...? A family movie! (Or 2, a short and a feature.) 

ORANGE LIPSTICK is the story of a working mother. Two kids, high-stress job, and a husband who only calls her to ask her to pick up milk on the way home. She needs a night off. And she gets it, in the form of new lipstick and a wild night out with some young people who see that she needs a wild night out. Just enough of a recharge to love her family again.

I do have to mention that a technical glitch resulted in ORANGE LIPSTICK being played twice. Once with a really bad flicker, and once looking gorgeous, but with a kind of exasperated audience. These things happen, and I want to thank the excellent projection team at all the Cinequest venues. This isn't easy, playing a different film ever couple of hours with different technical specs, especially when there's a short and then a feature with different specs. Cinequest has been largely glitch-free this year. And re-playing a 15 minute short is nothing. Listen, I could tell you of the time (at a different film festival) when a 35 mm film was plattered and fed through two projectors in back-to-back theaters and near the end they discovered the last reel was attached backwards. That's a projectionist's nightmare, maybe even more so than the dreaded burn-through. (Or, in the days of digital projection, "bricking" the projector.)

Anyway, then it was on to the feature, FOR GRACE. Ben is a successful businessman with a lovely wife. And the birth of his first daughter (the Grace of the title) has stirred some old questions in him. See, he always knew he was adopted, but never knew his birth parents. So he talks to his wife, he talks to his adoptive parents, and he goes on a search for his real mother. And he invites a documentary crew along with him. And...there's a surprise I'm not going to spoil. Unless you look below to the end of this post. Anyway, he discovers the convent where he was born. He learns his mother was 13 years old at the time. He learns she left right away, but came back 2 years later, pregnant again. And she died in childbirth, but his brother (or at least half-brother) survives! So he goes on a journey to meet Peter, his brother, who happens to be deaf. And there's...a striking resemblance. So they have to know, are they full brothers or half-brothers? (Especially if deafness could run in the family, what could it mean for little Grace?) More surprises are in store, as this tender story unfolds about how the family you make is just as important, if not more so, than the one you inherit by blood.

Wed, Mar 8 4:45 PM in Redwood City
Wed, Mar 8 4:45 PM at Santana Row
Sun, Mar 12 10:50 AM in Redwood City

Total Running Time: 404 minutes (wow, with that and dashing around between venues, no wonder I had no time to eat. Thank you to the greatest CQ volunteer ever for keeping me fed--you know who you are!)
My Total Minutes: 421,761

p.s.: Okay, that surprise. Highlight to read: FOR GRACE is not really a documentary. It's a fake, and if you're at all smart about reading the festival guide you would see it's listed as "Drama" not as "Documentary." But I was fooled for about half the film. Then I started thinking 'this is awfully staged for a documentary.' And then I was relieved at the end to learn it was a fake all along. Well done guys! and I want others to have the chance to see it like I did.