Monday, January 29, 2007

Jason watches "Notes on a Scandal"

And it's pretty good. Especially the acting. Dame Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett are brilliant. Brilliant enough to actually make me care about the problems of an old, lonely dyke (okay, that's not explicit but pretty heavily implied) and a younger statutory rapist. Brilliant enough to overcome the heavy-handed use of voice over narration of Judi Dench writing in her diary. And composer Phillip Glass once again pulls off the seemingly impossible feat of being both minimalist and overbearing (which somehow is pitch-perfect for this film). All in all, I'd say it got exactly the Oscar nominations it deserved and none that it didn't deserve.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Jason watches "The Good Shepherd"

And it was pretty good. The biggest complaint I could give it is that it's too long (2 hours, 47 minutes). But it actually fills that time well. I checked my watch only once, and noted that at about the halfway point it already felt like a full movie. The second biggest complaint I could give is that it occasionally felt like it was kicking the CIA while it was down. It's nearly impossible to go into the theater without thinking of recent CIA failures, and then the movie frames the birth of the CIA agains the Bay of Pigs disaster, making a few points about how it got to that point (DeNiro's differentiation of "America's eyes and ears" vs. "it's heart and soul" is fairly succinct), but mostly mocking it as a grown up version of Skull and Bones. And a third complaint would be that Matt Damon's character isn't likeable enough. Or, more to the point, he doesn't stay likeable enough for very long. Which is really the point of the movie. If by the end you forgot the opening with Matt Damon in drag singing "I'm Called Little Buttercup" in a Yale production of "H.M.S. Pinafore", well, you'll be either reminded or confused by the musical callback, and you'll be forgiven because it was almost 3 hours ago and his character is almost unrecognizable as the young Yale poetry student from 20 years earlier.

Anyway, this means I've now seen everything nominated for the Oscar for Best Art Direction. Also Best Cinematography and Best Song. So I'll be writing about those categories shortly.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Jason has some quick thoughts on the Oscar nominations

So I'll follow up with several posts analyzing each category. My rule is I can't make a prediction unless I've seen everything that was nominated, but here are some quick takes:

"Letters From Iwo Jima" and "Notes on a Scandal" have now jumped to the top of my must-see list, followed closely by "Little Children".

Speaking of "Letters From Iwo Jima", I held back on seeing that and "Flags of Our Fathers" in hopes of seeing them as a double feature. But it doesn't look like there are any theaters near me that are cool enough to do that.

Peter O'toole makes me wonder what the record is for number of years after getting an honorary lifetime achievement award someone has won an Oscar.

However, Mr. O'toole will again fall short, as Forest Whitaker will easily win the award, then celebrate by eating the losers (note, I haven't actually seen "Venus", so this is a premature prediction).

I've only seen one best actress nominated performance, and I'm still sure nobody can beat Helen Mirren in "The Queen".

Nice to see Abigail Breslin get a nomination, but did she really have only a supporting role in "Little Miss Sunshine"? Wasn't she kinda the title character? (Yes, I know that the title refers to the contest, but it's another case where the "supporting" actor/actress designation is ill-defined)

I cheered the addition of a best Animated Feature a few years back, but what a huge step down from last year ("Wallace and Gromit", "Corpse Bride", and "Howl's Moving Castle" vs. "Cars", "Happy Feet", and "Monster House"). Hopefully this is just a down year for this category. Because if the nominees continue to be this freakin' pointless, they should retire the category.

"Dreamgirls" gets 8 nominations, but not for Best Picture or Best Director? It makes more sense if you realize that 3 of them were for Best Song.

After you're done doing a double-take about "Dreamgirls" getting nominated 3 times for best song, consider that the Academy didn't nominate "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going", which pretty much anchored Jennifer Hudson's best supporting actress nominated performance. They could've just added a new category for this year--best song in "Dreamgirls".

"Click" was nominated? Really, "Click"? I don't care what it was for (Best Makeup), but take a deep breath and realize that for the rest of time, "Click" can advertise itself as an oscar-nominated movie.

Ditto for "Superman" and "Poseidon". Freaking "Poseidon", dammit! (Note, I haven't seen the movie, so for all I know it's good. I'm just ranting).

In fact, it seems like the Best Visual Effects category was confused with "Movies that have nothing of any value to them except for some effects that aren't even all that impressive because we've seen equal or better on our home PC".

Which reminds me, "The Fountain" wasn't nominated for anything!? I loved that movie, and at least the effects were awesome (and not generated by computer).

I'm confused, why is "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" an adapted screenplay? Does basing it off a TV show character count? Or was it secretly a variation of Hamlet but you just have to know what references to look for? For that matter, how much of a screenplay did it have? Wasn't most of it improvised?

Okay, that is all.

Jason elaborates on the process of mapping out how to see everything at Indiefest.

So as you can see from my previous post, I came up with a couple of different options for seeing everything at Indiefest. For anyone who cares, click on the links below for the gory google spreadsheet steps of how I mapped out option A and option B. Each workbook contains several sheets, each sheet is more or less one step in mapping out a schedule. Note that it isn't until step 8 that I realize I have 2 major options, so up until then both spreadsheets look the same.

From a high level, it starts with entering every show into a spreadsheet and figuring out which ones I have to see (the ones playing only once, then the ones I can't see any other time because they're playing opposite something playing only once). If you want to start there, go to sheet 4 or either workbook. At that point I look at my personal preferences, mainly that I'd like to minimize the number of early weekday shows so that I can keep my job while still seeing everything. If that doesn't apply to you, feel free to copy sheet 4 and use it as the start of your own schedule.

I then take into account whether I'll have time to get between venues (this, incidentally, precluded me from seeing any movies in Berkeley, I'll be in SF the whole festival). Then I look at any remaining showtimes which have only one movie to see. Eventually everything falls into place.

Incidentally, the festival has expanded significantly this year, returning to the East Bay and having multiple venues during the weekday shows. That made my job a little tougher (in terms of determining a schedule, seeing everything is as easy or hard as it ever was), but I'm still up to the task.

Update: Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that my final step was going back to the schedule on the indiefest website to make sure I got everything, and seeing that they added the Tuesday, Feb 20 showing of "Forgiving the Franklins". That was trivial to add to my final schedule.


Jason tells you how to see everything at Indiefest

Oh boy, oh boy, it's Indiefest time! I haven't even read the descriptions of the films yet, but here's my schedule (with a couple of options) for how to see everything at Indiefest:

More to come soon, with explicit, gory details on how I determine how to see everything.

Also, if you want to view the raw spreadsheet instead of the embedded schedule, go here


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Jason Watches Soccer.

With Dave, Cynthia, Dan, Becky, another Dave, and Dustin. Halftime and US and Denmark are tied 1-1.

--update, the final score was 3-1 USA! Yay!

--Another update, and clarification. The names I listed above are from left to right (mostly. Becky is actually slightly to the left but mostly below Dan). Also "another Dave" is actually my friend and colleague Dave (and Becky's husband). The first Dave I met just before the game and is a friend of my friend and colleague Dave (and Becky). So I think of him as "other Dave", but it would've been weird to start listing the names with "other Dave". Okay, was that needlessly confusing enough? These are the Daves I know, I know, these are the Daves I know...

Friday, January 19, 2007

Jason Watches "Pan's Labyrinth"

And it's awesome! Really, really awesome! Wow! Lots of critics have written wonderful things about it, and all I have to say is, "me too!"

One thing I'll add is that it is dark. It's not just fantasy. It's nothing like "Labyrinth", the old Jennifer Connelly classic. Don't confuse the two, or you'll be disappointed.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Jason Finishes up Berlin and Beyond

Ending the festival with the delightful, colorful romantic-but-acerbic comedy, "The Fisherman and His Wife" by Doris Dörrie, based on the Grimm fairy tale. It starts with a couple of fish, who were once human husband and wife. They were cursed and turned to fish for bickering so much, and the only way they can turn back to their human form is if they're taken in by a couple who are still in love with each other after 3 years of marriage. They are currently in a commercial fish pond in Japan, but are adopted as "maybe fish" (because they're worthless now, but if their coloring changes they could be worth many hundred thousand dollars) by a German couple. The woman is so impulsive and driven she convinces him to get married right there in Japan, before they return home (even though they just met there in Japan). He's very happy being an independent fish doctor/appraiser specializing in parasitic diseases. She wants to be a fashion designer, and has an idea for koi-inspired fashion. Even when they have a new baby, her drive and his lack of drive (or as he tries to justify it, being content with the moment) strains their marriage. But in the end, like the few German romantic comedies I've seen, love sorta-kinda conquers not-quite-all-but-most-things. Or to put it another way: love is super, but relationships suck!

And then there was the after party, an incredibly crowded affair in the upstairs mezzanine of the Castro, which is meant for maybe 100 people while the theater holds a couple thousand (as I pointed out, we just saw a movie about fish, and now were crammed in like sardines! I want a bigger aquarium!) But once enough people gave up and left it was cool to hang out, have a few beers, and talk to other film fans. I got to thank and compliment the festival director Ingrid Eggers on a wonderful program, and I'm looking forward to coming back next year.

One final thought on Berlin and Beyond. Many movies were very dark and violent at this festival (although my personal favorite, "A Friend of Mine", wasn't). And it wasn't just me, many people commented on it, and said that it's different from years past. So is it something specific to Germany that's making movies darker, or is it more global, or is it just a coincidence? I'll keep an eye on the violent content of films this year, and comment further.

And so, Berlin and Beyond is in the books! Now maybe I'll finally have time to see "Pan's Labyrinth".

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Jason comments on the MPAA changing its rating policies

Interesting article on IMDb today about the MPAA changing its rating policy. What I found most interesting is that (unless IMDb is misquoting him) the head of the MPAA actually credited the documentary "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" with influencing their decision. I would normally expect them to say that this is something they've been considering for a while, and they reached this decision independently (like McDonald's coincidentally ending the super-size option after the film "Super Size Me" came out). Especially since the grievances aired in the movie have been around for a while. Was the MPAA so isolated that they didn't know there were complaints until this movie came out? More likely, Jack Valenti was just stubborn (his fight with Trey Parker and Matt Stone over "South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut" is pretty legendary). Seems like this Dan Glickman guy (former Congressman from Kansas and Secretary of Agriculture under Clinton) is more reasonable.

As for the actually changes, I've no strong opinion. I like the idea of a filmmaker being able to cite scenes from other movies in the appeal process. And it sounds like he might break the R rating into essentially soft-R and hard-R. That'll be interesting to see if that happens and how it shakes out (the last big shakeup, introducing the PG-13 rating, is widely seen as causing more movies that would've been made PG previously to add a little "spice" to make them PG-13, and it had very little effect on R movies).

More importantly, this would all be academic if the rating system weren't such a gatekeeper to distribution. Technically the ratings hold no legal weight and are designed to be just a guide for parents. And if you consider it from the point of view of the government telling them "regulate your own content to protect children or we'll do it for you", the system isn't that bad. Problem is, there are a lot of compelling movies that are NC-17 or unrated, and unless you live in a major metropolitan area, you'll never get to see them (at least not on the big screen). So I accept the idea that a rating system is probably needed, even useful. I welcome tweaks to the rating system, but overall it'll still be subjective. And there will be many movies I want to see that are not appropriate for children. So I don't see the issue as a rating problem as much as a distribution problem.

Any ideas out there about how to fix the distribution system so compelling, provocative, mature movies can be seen by whoever wants to see them? Just saying that theaters need to be brave and show these movies unrated (which is completely legal) is unreasonable. They still need to make money, so it's an economic issue.

Jason goes to Berlin and Beyond for the penultimate night

I like the word "penultimate".

Anyway, first up last night was "Nathan the Wise", a 1922 German silent film based on the 1779 play by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, and a fantastic parable about religious tolerance. The making, destruction, and recent recovery of this film is an amazing story in itself. It was made (as I said earlier) in 1922. It was made in Munich by the Jewish filmmaker Manfred Noa. Only one picture of him exists (check it out on the B&B website here), and that's from a book published in the 30's by the Nazis describing the Jewish control of the film industry. Munich in the 20's was actually the Nazis' stronghold--Hitler gained control there before he caught on elsewhere. So the movie was banned by the Munish authorities, but approved by the national authorities in Berlin. It was fairly popular over all of Germany except for Munich. It played once in Munich, and the theater owner was threatened byt the Nazis that if he played it again they'd burn down his theater. Hitler was invited to the screening, but declined, sending a deputy instead who denounced it as Jewish propoganda. It was ultimately banned and all prints supposedly destroyed (although for a while it secretly showed in neighboring countries under the false title "The Storming of Jerusalem"). Then recently a print showed up in a vault in Moscow. Presumably one copy was saved in the Berlin film archives, and the Soviets took it when they stormed Berlin at the end of the war. The print was finally returned to Munich where it was restored and has played to enthusiastic audiences. And now it's played here in America, again.

So as for the story: Nathan is a respected Jewish merchant living in Jerusalem in the late 12 century. This is the time of the crusades, and in fact he loses his entire family to crusaders. All alone, he is given an orphaned baby girl by the assistant to a dead Knight Templar (the baby's father). He raises her as his own daughter--his only remaining family. Meanwhile, the muslim sultan Saladin conquers Jerusalem and a period of relative peace ensues. But the peace is tenuous at best, and always on the verge of exploding. It's a wonderful story of religious tolerance, and the parable Nathan uses to answer Saladin's question of which is the one true faith is worth repeating (more than the intricate details of the drama do). So here, in my own clumsy language, is my attempt:

(Saladin has just asked Nathan to determine which--out of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity--is the one true faith. Nathan's response follows).

There once was a king who had a ring with a magical power. It had the power to make him love and by loved by God and all people. With this ring, the king was guaranteed to always be a kind and beloved ruler, which was a win-win situation for everyone. So as he grew old, he decided he would pass on his ring to his most congenial son, who would then become king (and would be kind and loved). So it was for many generations that the ring was passed down and the kings of this land were always kind and always loved, until one day the ring came into possession of a king who had three sons whom he loved equally. He couldn't decide which was the most congenial, and he couldn't bear the thought of disappointing two of them. So instead, he secretly had 2 more identical counterfeit rings made, and gave each of them a ring. When the king passed on, each was surprised to find that they all had a ring. Each one insisted that they had the true ring, and the other two were counterfeit, but try as they might no one could ever find a distinguishing feature that would determine which was the true ring. So eventually the three sons went before a judge to ask him to determine which was the true ring and hence who would be king of the land. The judge considered the case for some time, then declared, "The ring has the
magical power to make the wearer love and be loved by God and all the people". Therefore whoever shows the most human kindness--and receives the most kindness in return--is wearing the true ring. It is the same way with the true faith--the true faith should not be judged by it's label, but by the amount of human kindness it's follower's exhibit and elicit from others.

I like this parable. In fact, I like it so much that I hereby declare a worldwide contest of human kindness. Whichever faith exhibits and elicits the most total human kindness wins, and shall be declared the one true faith. I'm the judge (as an agnostic/borderline atheist, I'm pretty impartial), the contest ends at the end of this year.

By the way, by pure coincidence a new translation of the original play "Nathan the Wise" is being put on in Oakland. Check it out here.

And the second movie of the night was a grafitti artist subculture story, "Wholetrain". You know the drill, here's another crappy camera phone picture of a director, this time it's Florian Gaag:

I should point out that Florian is actually the director/writer/composer/co-producer--pretty much everything but star. Yet another debut feature, this is a fast paced story of graffiti crews who target trains. Specifically about rival crews--the heros and current dominant crew, KSB (David, Tino, Elyas, and new guy Achim) vs. the new, hotter ATL crew. The fight for artistic dominance and run from the police, with David the most at risk (he's one probation violation away from real jail time). As ATL's art gets bolder--doing "whole cars" and real "burns" (great art), KSB is becoming desperate, and decide that the only way they can reclaim dominance is to do a "whole train". It's funny and serious (Tino going into a fight with his baby on his back is a priceless scene), and the art is really, really cool. A pretty effective plea for graffiti--some graffiti at least--as a true art form. I got to thinking about the culture and covering first a blank wall with spray paint. Then about crossing out other's art and doing your own over it, or someone doing it to yours, or someone just washing your paint off--the whole temporary nature of the art. Basically, I've got no problems with graffiti if it actually improves the look of the surface. If you can improve on a clean, blank wall, go for it (problem is, too much graffiti doesn't even meet this condition). Then if there's already some graffiti on the wall, if you can do better go ahead. Just don't be upset if someone thinks that they can do better than you (either by putting another layer of graffiti on it, or returning it to blank wall status). It's just a shame that the passion that drives the art also fuels violence associated with it. Although interestingly, between the rival gangs it never elevated to more than trash-talking and competitive painting. The real danger was between the gangs and the police.

All right, now I've got just one more movie tonight and then Berlin and Beyond will officially be over.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Jason continues going to Berlin & Beyond--Monday

Just two more days of the festival left. First up was "Ping Pong", and here's a picture of the director, Matthias Luthardt:

"Ping Pong" is another brilliant first feature in the festival, and another movie about severely messed up people (seriously, is it just Germany, or is the whole world f-ed up this year?). Paul's father just committed suicide, so he goes to live with his aunt, uncle, and cousin in the country. But they're the sort of family that prefers to let things fester quietly rather than talk about it. Uncle Stefan (Falk Rockstrah, also from "Combat Sixteen") is absent most of the film. Aunt Anna is cool to Paul at first, heaping all her affection not on her son but on her dog. Cousin Robert is a piano prodigy and an alcoholic. Paul starts to make himself useful by retiling their pool, but he has a growing attraction to his aunt that might just be mutual. All through everything, the ping pong table becomes a way to pass time without the unpleasant business of having a conversation. As one audience member commented in the Q&A, "This movie is completely twisted from start to finish...and I loved it!" One word of warning, the ending is not suitable for dog lovers. And at first, that was the only thing that upset me about the movie. But the more I thought about it (including during my drive into work this morning), I think the ending is perfect. I don't like giving away spoilers, so if you want to know the ending, read the comments at your own risk.

Keeping with the classical music theme, but going perhaps even darker, the next film was "Vier Minuten" ("Four Minutes"). On one hand a celebration of music even from inside prison, and on the other hand a bomb of emotions (positive and negative--mostly negative) exploding on the screen. Jenny is a tough young women serving time in prison for murder. Traude is the elderly music teacher who's been teaching the inmates since WWII. Traude becomes obsessed with Jenny, obstensibly for her musical prowess but perhaps something more. As Traude tutors Jenny for a big music competition (which has become great press for the prison), secrets about their past are revealed--especially about Traude's secret lesbian affair with a communist prisoner. Meanwhile Jenny is being tormented in prison--both by her fellow inmates and by a guard who's jealous of her abilities and the time Traude spends with her. All of it leads to a final concert in which Jenny has four magical minutes to reclaim her life with a performance that's unforgettable.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Jason has some comments on code free DVD players

So recently Baceman007, aka The Minister of Common Sense, posted some comments in regard to code free DVD players. Some of the links he pointed out were:,

First, let me say that I've never used these sites and I have no knowledge of their effectiveness and/or legality, and I would never knowingly encourage you to do anything illegal. Baceman007 also made a similar disclaimer in his comments. I'd also add that some years ago I looked around for DVD region code hacks and found a number of them, many of which actually involved physically jumpering out/replacing components. So I'd only recommend this if you plan to trash your player if you fail.

Furthermore, often hacking the region code is only half the battle. For most foreign DVD's, you also have to convert PAL format to NTSC to play on an American TV.

Personally, for my time and money (especially if you need a new player anyway), I'd rather just There are any number of online stores that'll sell you one if you just search google for "code free dvd player". One I've used before and have never had a problem with is I'm not guaranteeing it's the best or cheapest or anything, just that I've used it before and it worked for me.

Finally, as for the greedy studios who imposed this system--I don't know a lot about the worldwide movie distribution business, but it seems to me that the studios have less to lose from import DVDs than do individual theater owners. Perhaps more money is made on theatrical release than DVD, but more and more I hear that that's not the case. If the studio get the $$ from a DVD sale, whether it's sold in America or in Europe, I don't see how the studio loses all that much (note that I'm talking about import of legitimate studio DVDs, not piracy--that's a different issue). Sure, import DVD sales could cannibalize theater box office, but I think that's already happening for many movies. I personally know several people who'll purposely miss several movies because they'd rather rent them on Netflix than spen $10 to see them on the big screen. People who go to the movies nowadays are people who care about the big screen experience--not just big special effects but the experience of sitting in a dark room with a bunch of strangers and having a shared experience. I'm not saying studios aren't greedy or that they aren't the driving force behind enforcing region codes. I'm just saying that the system protects more than just the studio interests. Primarily, it protects local distributors and theater owners, and consequently it protects theater patrons. Sure, it can be frustrating to wait for a much-hyped movie to come out in your country, but if you care that much for a few bucks the system can be circumvented anyway. In fact, my only real complaint about the system is that it's a joke--it's so easy to circumvent that why implement it in the first place? Just release movies more or less simultaneously worldwide (perhaps some smaller movies won't have enough prints), and release on DVD after it's played everywhere theatrically.

Really, I think the current system is actually a fairly comfortable balance (well, maybe not that comfortable). The people who want to see foreign movies that might never make it to the US can see them if they look hard enough and spend a few extra bucks on a code free DVD player (again, I'm not talking about piracy, that's illegal and wrong and I want nothing to do with it). Neither the studios nor the theaters have any interest in hassling me for having a code free player, since I spend so much money on their product every year. And when I buy a DVD, I'll always buy the american version if it's available at the time (or I know when it will be available) and has all the features I want (very rarely I've bought a foreign version of a DVD because it had an extra not available on the american version).

Anyway, as I said I'm not an expert in the economics of worldwide film distribution, but that's my rant. Your mileage may vary.


Jason continues watching Berlin and Beyond

Okay, when I last left off, I had seen a series of short movies. Here's the quick rundown:

Leroy Cleans Up: Leroy, a groovy young black man (complete with big-ass afro) riffs on racism in Germany with his Greek best friend, his white girlfriend, and his girlfriend's skinhead brother and his buddies.

Ego Sum Alpha et Omega: Animated in crisp black and white, about the strict linear progression of man from hairless ape to modern industrialist and back again.

Exploding Buds: Surreal candy-colored story of love, desire, and triangular hair.

Promenade D'aprés Midi: Black and white (with a hint of red) photo-animated world turned upside down. With an umbrella.

Delivery: Computer animated story of an old man getting a mysterious box which happens to hold his entire universe. Hey, I remember when they did that on Futurama! It's still cool here.

Mozart Minute: 26 Austrian filmmakers were invited to make 1-minute films about Mozart. Some made movies about his music, some about his life, some about the Viennese tourist industry based on him. I won't go into all of them, but it did answer two burning questions. First, what would Mozart do if he lived in America today (Answer: fart in the president's face). Second, how do you make one minute of Mozart music feel waaaay too long (Answer: set it to a movie of two nake guys sitting on couches opposite each other jerking off).

And that's that for the short films. Up next was "The Boy Without Qualities" by Thomas Stiller (picture in previous post). The boy in the title is Tim, a 20-something young man still living with his mother (or so he thinks). Tim has problems distinguishing reality from fantasy, and has long talks about life and love with his dead father. He also has the same nightmare every night and always wakes up with a terrible headache. He muddles through life and starts a tentative relationship with Claudia, the lady who works at the fried fish stand he frequents. Claudia herself is a victim of violence and in pursuing their relationship Tim must learn to accept the horrible secret from his childhood and start living in reality. It's a tremendous, gripping story well told with some amazing surprises at the end.

Next up was "Valerie", the festival's award winner for best first feature. Here's a picture of the director Birgit Möller (center) and one of the producers (who's name I apologize for forgetting, left):
"Valerie" was a fascinating story of a "shadow woman"--a woman (specifically a model named Valerie) who is broke and homeless but keeps it a secret while living the glamorous life of a model. She was once very successful, and too proud to admit that she's fallen on hard times. When she's stranded at the Berlin Hyatt without the money to even get her car out of the parking garage, she goes on living out of her car (bickering and then ultimately befriending the security guards down there). To the outside world, she still pretends to live at the hotel, sneaking into rooms to eat their room service leftovers or sneak a quick shower. Really, she's amazingly clever and resourceful, and it's fascinating how pride becomes such a mental disease that she can't put her resourcefulness to work actually digging herself out of the situation (she won't even pawn her expensive clothes). One of the best illustrations of this is when she steals a handful of change from a photographer friend of hers (bear in mind this is Europe, so change can be several euros). Instead of using it to get her car out of the garage or buy a decent meal, she simply walks through the hotel and gives a generous tip to one of the bellhops--it's all about keeping up appearances. But as days go on (she's officially homeless for 4 days) things get more difficult, and she even comes very close to prostitution (still, she's too proud to do that, instead getting beaten up by her prospective client). A wonderfully executed fascinating look at a desperate situation, and Agata Buzek does a wonderful job as the title character.

And the final movie of the night was a bit of ultra-violence, "Combat Sixteen". Here's a pic of the director, Mirko Borscht:
"Combat Sixteen" is the story of Georg, moving from west Frankfurt to east (Frankfurt/Main to Frankfurt/Oder). Although not geographically far away, it's a whole different world and he's immediately picked on by the local toughs. Lucky for him, he's the state Tae Kwon Do champ, so he easily and efficiently kicks their collective ass. And things might be okay, but unfortunately he wins the respect and admiration of the gang leader Thomas, who decides to recruit him (Thomas even quotes from "The Art of War" to impress Georg with his intelligence). He resists, but he has little else to fall back on. His friends are away, his father is too busy for him, his sister is involved in her wild art projects, there's not even a good Tae Kwon Do club in town. So eventually he agrees to help train Thomas in exchange for room to practice, and from there they become uneasy friends and the situation eventually spirals into a hell of neo-nazi gang life. Two things really impressed me. First, the theme (both literal and metaphorical) of how in Tae Kwon Do mastering your emotions and keeping control is key, but as he loses control he becomes vulnerable. Second, I was really impressed with how real and brutal the violence looked. This was dirty, fist (or foot, or bat) on flesh and bone violence, not pretty acrobatics. Very impressive. By the way, this was also a first feature film, and that just makes it all the more impressive.

That's it for now. Two more movies tonight.


Sunday, January 14, 2007

Jason goes to B&B and sees 'A Boy Without Qualities'

And here's a picture of the director Thomas Stiller.

Actually, first I saw a program of short films, but that'll be in a different, longer post.

In fact, I've decided to take a break from mobile blogging. I'll write up the rest of today's films tomorrow.


Jason goes to B&B and sees 'Rascals on the Road'

AKA "Mein Name Ist Eugen". This was a hilarious Swiss coming of age children's movie about four boys who are rascals and their summer-long quest to find Fritzli Bühler, the legendary king of the rascals. It's a sweet, fast-paced romp, a nice movie to start the day. Eugen and Franz (aka Wrigley) escape from Scout camp with fat dummy Edward and sissy mama's boy Baschtelli. From Bern, they attempt to bicycle all the way to Zurich, having rascally adventures along the way.

Jason has a few quick comments about Berlin and Beyond

First, the last two posts were in the wrong order. I saw "A Friend of Mine" before seeing "The Free Will". They showed up that way because I wrote them on my cell phone while I was underground on the BART, and sent them both out when I was above ground again. Sorry, I'll try to be more careful about that in the future.

Also I wanted to say that the director Matthias Glasner was there for "The Free Will", but I couldn't stay for the Q&A because I had to run to catch the last BART train home. So I'm sorry I missed him. Although it wasn't a fun movie, it was fascinating.

And finally, it occurs to me that people might want to know that the festival website is at Go there to learn more about these movies or about the Goethe Institute that sponsors the festival.

That's it, good night everyone.


Jason at B&B--'A Friend of Mine'

Here's a pic of the director of my favorite film of the festival so far--Sebastian Schipper. His movie, "A Friend of Mine", was hilarious. Karl (Daniel Brühl) is an award winning insurance analyst, but is too timid to be a team player. His boss sends him on a demeaning minimum-wage assignment shuttling cars for a rental company, ostensibly as a spy but really to make him stand up for himself. But once he's there, he meets Hans (Jürgen Vogel), a fun loving and kinda crazy fellow driver. So from Hans Karl does learn a valuable lesson--not about being a better, more self-confident worker, but about enjoying life more. It was awesome.

Jason at B&B sees 'The Free Will'

Although this movie also stars Jürgen Vogel from "A Friend of Mine", it's a very different role which showcases his acting range. Instead of a fun-loving clown, this time he's Theo, a suicidally depressed rapist just let out of a mental hospital after 9+ years. He's determined to show he can be good and live a normal life, but he soon finds it's nearly impossible. From the not-at-all subtle sexual advertising everywhere to the crushing loneliness of people around him, the messages are everywhere. It gets even harder when he meets and starts a tentative friendship with his bosses daughter Nettie (Sabine Timoteo, also from "A Friend of Mine"), who has been abused herself. Ultimately it becomes an obviously doomed love story about trying to break the pattern of abuse. It's unflinching in it's graphicness, as well as in it's sympathetic portrayal of Theo, a man who has done enough bad things we'd prefer to dismiss him as a monster. But this movie, without excusing him, at least asks you to look at him.

Jason at B&B 'The Pickup Artist' and 'Here We Come'

Both of these movies are the audience award winners at Kinefest Lünen last year (apparently a Berlin & Beyond tradition).

"The Pickup Artist" is a hilarious short about a guy who's a real ladies' man who gets his comeuppance when he runs into his latest conquest's daughter as he's trying to make his early morning escape.

Then the feature was "Here We Come", which is a dumb, uninformative title. A better title would be "Breakin' in the GDR!", as it's all about East Germany's underground breakdancing scene in the 80's. Even up to the point where the cultural ministry discovers it and renames it 'acrobatic showdancing' to make it more appropriate. It's a funny look at people having fun and not even realizing it's political because they had no idea their government was supposedly oppressive. Another movie that breaks (no pun intended) East German stereotypes.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Jason goes to B&B and sees 'The Kick'

And here's a picture of the director Andres Veiel.

The Kick comes out of the true life crime story of three young men (two juveniles, one an older brother) who got caught up in the skinhead culture and beat and murdered a guy they knew (they claim it was for being Jewish, although they didn't even know what that meant). Anyway, the director Andres was frustrated in his attempts to make a straight forward documentary about the case, so he took the few interviews he had, added trial and interrogation transcripts, and made a non-linear play with just two actors playing all the roles. Then he turned his play into a movie (still with the same two actors). It's an interesting experiment, and certainly a masterful performance by the actors, but it's just too wordy, especially if you don't know the language and are reading subtitles the whole time.

Okay, that's two down, three more to go today.

Jason goes to B&B and sees 'Wild Chicks'

I'm posting this mobile, and space is limited on text messages. Hence a series of small posts instead of one post about 10 movies.

Anyway, I just saw "Wild Chicks", a cute pre-teen gang comedy. The titular Wild Chicks are a girl gang led by Sprat. Most of their time is spent scheming revenge against their rival boy gang, the pygmies. Meanwhile everyone in both gangs is dealing with his or her own problems--ranging from pimples to an abusive father. But the huge problem that drives the story is Sprat's grandmother. She's going to slaughter the chickens that Sprat has spent so much time with, so she hatches a plan (no pun intended) to steal them away. Of course, wacky hijinx ensue. It's a cute, fun story with interesting and well developed characters. And the child actors were very good (of course, maybe I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt. Their line delivery seemed perfect in the subtitles).

Friday, January 12, 2007

Berlin and Beyond--day 2

Two movies today. I just saw "Tough Enough", a tough kids in Berlin movie. Michael and his slutty, slutty mom move from the burbs to the inner city, he's immediately the target of bullies and falls in with some bad kids--not violent, but just kids who skip school and get drunk instead. When he finally sticks up for himself his mix of courage and squeaky clean "honest" face catches the eye of the local drug lord, who signs him to a lucrative contract. And brutal hijinx ensue.

Next up was "Zeppelin", an ambitious mix of narrative and documentary footage casting the Hindenberg tragedy against a love triangle and the journey of a modern day man searching for answers about his grandfather, who was a technician in charge of the fuel cells on the Hindenburg. It was anambitious use of archival footage with new shot footage, and many different film styles to capture the many layered time periods of the story. The format reminded me of Werner Herzog's recent experiments blurring the documentary/narrative line. But this story was more engaging than "The Wild Blue Yonder".

And that's it for now. The festival continues through the weekend continues through the weekend. So more to come!


Jason goes to Berlin and Beyond--opening night

Hello all,

So last night I went to the opening night of the Berlin and Beyond German language film festival. I'd wanted to go for a few years and finally this year I was able to. So here's the rundown of opening night.

First there was the opening night party. A little tip to any film fest organizers out there--unless you want a significant portion of your audience to be kinda drunk for the movie, have the party after the films. Instead, they had the party first (the SF Jewish Film Festival also does this, I don't know why). But on the plus side, this being a German festival the food was hearty and the beer was plentiful. Mmmm...Dinkel Acker and beef stew, perfect for one of the coldest nights ever in San Francisco.

So 90 minutes of eating, drinking, and shmoozing with film people and I was ready to start the movie. The opening night selection was a sweet confection called "Summer in Berlin" (the german title translates to "Summer on the Balcony", but the director Andreas Dresen--who apparently has had many films play in this festival--said he figured it'd have a better chance to play at Berlin and Beyond if "Berlin" was in the title). It's a mostly sweet slightly bitter story of best friends Nike and Katrin. Nike is a blond in-home care nurse taking care of several elderly patients during the day and partying all night. I wouldn't go so far as to call her slutty, but she dresses kinda trashy and picks up guys. Katrin is an unemployed single mother interviewing for a job dressing mannequins for store displays. Katrin is almost run over by truck driver Ronald , who then starts dating Nike (who can't remember if his name is Ronald or Roland). Meanwhile Katrin's son Max is smitten with a girl named Charly, who likes Max's friend and bad-boy Rico. Anyway, it's a slice of life story that's interesting for its characters and even more for its tone. The exact same script, in the hands of a more cynical, less playful director, could be a very acerbic, biting dark comedy. But as it is, the movie is as goofy, energetic, and just plain enjoyable as Andreas himself, who was very entertaining in the Q&A. Kind of surprised me for a former east German, I expected him to be more dour. But that's what I love about these festivals--breaking stereotypes and learning about cultures I know very little about.

So here's hoping that the rest of the festival continues to pleasantly surprise me!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Jason goes to Berlin... and Beyond

Here's a picture from my cell phone of Andreas Dresen, the director of the opening film (holding the mic). More details to follow.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Jason Watches "Freedom Writers" and "Night at the Museum"

Another odd pairing, set up by convenience of start times allowing me to theater hop and see two for the price of one. Yeah, I know it's stealing but I spend enough on movies that Hollywood's getting plenty from me.

Anyway, "Freedom Writers" was cliched, formulaic, and Hilary Swank's character was annoyingly smiley (makes me wonder if the real life Erin Gruwell is like that). Yet somehow it worked, it won me over in spite of itself. Mostly it made me want to read the book "The Freedom Writer's Diary" written by the kids depicted in the movie.

I expected "Night at the Museum" to be a bland comedy with very few laughs, and it was. But it's the #1 movie in America 3 weeks running, so I just know people will ask me about it. I won't hate anyone for liking it, it just had nothing to offer me.

And that's it. Berlin and Beyond starts Thursday, so expect a bunch of posts about German movies soon.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Jason watches "Rocky Balboa" and "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer"

I actually hadn't intended to see "Rocky Balboa", but it got pretty good reviews (77% on the tomatometer). Still, I didn't particularly want to see a washed-up star who has become little more than a cruel joke, destroying what glory he once had. Fortunately, Mike Tyson's cameo was as short as it was pointless. The rest of the movie was much, much better than yet another Rocky movie had any right to be.

Perfume has gotten mixed review--55% tomato rating. And I can't put my finger on what exactly's wrong with it. It was pretty good, but not great. I had high hopes since it's directed by Tom Tykwer ("Run, Lola, Run"), but it didn't quite live up to them. Perhaps the premise--someone with a supernaturally sensitive nose who attempts to synthesize beautiful women into the world's greatest perfume--is just too extreme to relate to. Or maybe it's just too long--alsmost 2:30 when 1:45 probably would have done it. Anyway, I wouldn't discourage anyone from seeing it, but it just didn't quite do it for me.

Jason Watches "Black Christmas" and "Dreamgirls"

Now there's a weird double feature, but hey, the showtimes lined up well.

"Black Christmas" is pretty much as bad as its 16% tomatometer score would indicate. Although I can give it some props for focusing so much of the gore on plucking out eyeballs.

So then I saw something easy on the eyes. "Dreamgirls" is every bit as good as its 79% tomatometer score, and I'm not particularly a fan of musicals. And, for the record, Jennifer Hudson blows Beyonce away.

Okay, I've got nothing more to say.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Jason mourns the loss of a bit of America's Greatness

Okay, this is a non-movie post, but now that I have a blog, I can talk about whatever stupid crap I want to.

For example, In-n-Out burgers. Without a doubt, still the best fast food burger around, despite the fact that you can't get them with bacon (that's another story). Anyway, their basic menu is a burger, cheeseburger, or "double-double". The double-double is 2 patties, 2 pieces of cheese. However, if you order it they'll also make a triple-triple, 4x4, or say...a 20x20. Really, you could order an MxN with M patties and N pieces of cheese (if you've never tried a 0x10, it's disgusting). At least that was true until recently. About a month ago I was grabbing some dinner at the In-n-Out. I had been good, not pigging out a lot recently so I decided to treat myself to a 6x6. But when I ordered, they just laughed at me and said their new policy is not to serve anything larger than a 4x6. I was flabbergasted. When did they do this!? Okay, I ended up getting 2 4x4's, thereby confounding any plan they might have had of keeping me from overindulging. But that's not the point, and that's not what upset me. First I'm upset that they laughed at me. Normally I would just take that in stride but historically I've had the most amazingly polite service at the In-n-Out. I assumed that was trained into them extensively. So that surprised me. But the real reason this bugged me goes back to my first time eating a 20x20.

This was back when I was in college, in Pasadena, where I was first introduced to the In-n-Out burger. Our local In-n-Out was about a mile or two from campus, so you had to either find someone with a car (I didn't have one) or walk. Well, one night I was angry about something, and decided to sink that anger in a big pile of meat and cheese. So I walked to the In-n-Out, which was one of the old style ones that's just a drive up kiosk, no place to eat inside. But they had a walk-up window. So I walked up to the window and said, "Hi, may I have a 20x20, animal style, with both raw and grilled onions, but no tomatoes, please?" (animal style, by the way, includes extra spices, pixels, etc. It's delicious). The nice lady who took my order obviously knew what she was doing, and keyed it in perfectly without even having to ask me to repeat it (which is rare). But when she gave the order to the cook, he must have been new because he said, "A 20x20, I don't know if I can do that!" And without missing a beat, she turned around and said, "Hey! You can do anything!" Ever since then, whenever I go to the In-n-Out and order a ridiculously large burger, I'm reminded that this is America and "hey, you can do anything!" But not anymore! And that's what bugs me.

By the way, for those of you thinking that eating a 20x20 would be incredibly painful, it's nothing compared to 3 days later when you take the biggest, hardest crap of your life.

Jason Watches "Children of Men"

And Alfonso Cuaron's sci-fi thriller about a near-future world where humans are infertile is as good as the reviewers say. I've added a link to Rotten Tomatoes, a movie review compilation site, to this blog (look to the right). "Children of Men" has a 93% fresh rating as of when I'm writing this. That's incredibly high, and it deserves it. The bleak future is fully realized, the camerawork is impressive (with several long elaborate tracking shots that sometimes cross over the line to showing off), the acting is great all around (particular kudos to Michael Caine, although he wasn't my favorite character he handled the burden of 99% of the exposition with clever humor).

Some thoughts--first, don't be fooled into thinking this is a simple political movie. It's about political people, but it's more about human nature, despair, and hope. And it's about how politics gets in the way of hope. Rather than taking a political side, this movie takes a humanist, anti-politics stance.

Second, for me the movie almost broke down under the weight of its premise. Not that humans became infertile--although it's unexplained that's the central premise and I went in ready to go with it. What started to bug me was that in this world an 8-months pregnant woman (Kee, played by Claire-Hope Ashitey) could exist without anyone knowing about it. Okay, for a while she could hide out with the secretive activist group known as "The Fishes", but once she leaves their compound how can nobody notice? I bring this up as an insight into how I watch movies. I love movies--I want to love every movie I see. So when I see something starting to bug me, rather than start hating the movie, I'll try to change how I look at it until it's something I like. So I thought about the fact that nobody is noticing that this woman is pregnant, and thought about what they are noticing instead. She's black, she's a refugee, probably an illegal immigrant (although it's not specified whether she's illegal, rounding up and deporting illegals seems to be the governments main occupation). So the fact that she's the salvation of mankind is lost in all the meaningless political fearmongering labels attached to her. And that idea--that humanity's obvious savior could go unrecognized because of ignorant, racist, fearmongering--is compelling. Do I believe were at a point where we wouldn't recognize a savior because of racism or xenophobia? Not really. If civilization collapsed could I belive it in 20 years? I like to think not, but I do find the idea interesting to think about. And more to the point, with a simple change of thought, I changed the one thing that kinda bugged me into one of my favorite things about the movie.

By the way, if you see it stay through the credits to listen to Jarvis Cocker's "(The Cunts are Still) Running the World". I loved it. I love it when a movie rewards me for sitting through the credits.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Jason Watches "Curse of the Golden Flower"

I don't know if I'll have to stamina to blog about every movie I see, but I'll at least start out trying. Anyway, Zhang Yimou's latest martial arts melodrama spectacular has the honor of being the first movie I've seen in 2007 and the first movie I've seen since starting this blog. As always, he tops himself (and nearly everyone) visually. The melodrama is as over-the-top as the visuals (and I mean that in a good way), with incest and murder in China's royal court. And it's a treat seeing Gong Li teaming up with Zhang Yimou again, and seeing Chow Yun-Fat in a completely villainous
role as the emperor (even his gun toting killers in John Woo movies were still mostly heroic).

Anyway, you can read reviews of it anymore, and this site isn't really about reviewing movies as much as chronicling my adventures watching movies.

But I do want to comment on Zhang Yimou's recent transition from the small, understated films that won him so much acclaim ("Raise the Red Lantern", "The Road Home", etc.) to big, flashy martial arts spectaculars ("Hero", "House of the Flying Daggers", and now "Curse of the Golden Flower"). I haven't studied his work closely enough to really complete this thesis, but I have a feeling that his two styles of movies are not all that different. There's of course an obvious difference in style, but I think the ideas he works with--family, loyalty, honor, tradition, and particularly Chinese identity--are still the same. It's wrong to say his movies are "Americanized". I don't even think they're "Hong Kong-ized", although perhaps that's closer. The easiest example is the ending of "Hero", which without giving away any spoilers I'll just say it's pretty obvious how to change the ending to make it appeal more to American sensibilities. And I believe similarly the endings of "House of the Flying Daggers" and "Curse of the Golden Flower" reveal how the mainland Chinese sensibility (or at least Zhang Yimou's sensibility) differs greatly from American and even Hong Kong sensibility. As I said, right now it's just a feeling but maybe some day I'll study his work further and come to a more solid conclusion.

Okay, that's it for now. Hopefully I'll see a bunch of movies this weekend. Really looking forward to "Children of Men".

Jason Makes Graphs

I make a lot of graphs.... Anyway, here's the rundown on 2006's movie watching. Note that I'm only counting movies watched in a theater, no home video. Series of short films or a short film before a feature count as 1 movie. Repeated screenings of the same movie (although rare) count as separate movies.

First is number of movies per day. Check out that spike of 9 movies. It's a new record! There's a story about that, which if I had started this blog last year, I would've written up in detail. Instead I'll just say it started with a 5-movie midnight marathon in Santa Cruz, so I was up to 5 movies by 10 am.

Here's the rolling average of movies per day, so I can see how late into the year I kept up a >1 movie/day average. Haven't made it all year ever, but I came close. Also I kicked ass over my 2005 average. Although you can see both years have a similar shape. The film festivals to which I'm most loyal come early in the year, and my average spikes then.

And here's the number of days I saw 0, 1, 2, ...6+ movies. Hey, I watch movies in clumps. 56% of the time, I don't see any movies. But on days when I do see a movie, I average over 2 movies.

And that's the recent past.
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Thursday, January 4, 2007

Welcome to Jason Watches Movies!

Hello, and welcome to an exciting new level of internet boredom! I'm Jason, I watch movies, and this is JasonWatchesMovies. Presumably that's what I'll blog about, mostly. We'll see.

This is a picture of me. It sucks, because I took it with my phone. But I like it, because it's what the movies see when they watch me back.

Okay, that's it for now.

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