Saturday, March 31, 2007
Friday, March 30, 2007
Guidolon, voiced by Cinequest legend Chris Garcia, is a movie monster making a remake of a movie based on his life. The 70's original was a huge bomb, but with the new wave of 70's remakes the studio has given him a chance to remake it. Of course, there's still insane freakin' problems, mostly studio interference. But it's nothing the love of a good triceratops and a Deus ex Mexicana ending can't solve. And for the record, XXXX Line temporarily expunged for competition reasons XXXX is the most freakin' romantic line ever (which could explain why I'm single).
It's interesting that one of the first wide release movies that deals with the emotional aftermath of 9/11 stars Adam Sandler. No, wait, that's not interesting, it's moronic. Or it would be if this wasn't one of those rare movies where Sandler tries to be serious. Actually, he does a pretty good job, mostly by mussing up his hair so he looks less like Adam Sandler the semi-retarded manchild clown and more like Adam Sandler the freaky Bob Dylan look-alike.
In other comments, Don Cheadle is great as ever. And finally, as someone who hates psychiatry (but is not a Scientologist), I appreciate the scenes with an anti-psychiatry stance but I was annoyed by the scenes with a pro-different-psychiatrist stance. At least the good psychiatrist is Liv Tyler, and she's kinda hot.
And finally, putting aside all other comments, it is a very kind, humane movie. Mike Binder has come a long way since making "Blankman".
Thursday, March 29, 2007
But it was Mexico vs. Ecuador at the Oakland Coliseum (I think that's NetAss Coliseum now?) Co-sponsored by San Jose Earthquakes LLC, it was a great opportunity for Lew Wolf, the organization, and the fans to show their dedication to soccer in the Bay Area. And it was a great drinking opportunity. We got there around 5:00, the tailgate had been going since 3:00. A couple of hours of drinking and pigging out, then our wave of blue marched into the stadium. Here's a shot of the Club Quakes caravan heading in:
Here's a shot of the field from our seats. Pretty sweet section. Normally $60 tickets, Club Quake got them for $30 pre-sale. Rumor has it you could get up to $150 for them if you wanted to scalp them. But screw that.
It was insanely loud with all the Mexico fans (and some Ecuadoreans), and the game itself was very exciting. Mexico scored first within 40 seconds, and it looked like it'd be a laugher. But the middle part of the game went to Ecuador, who tied it before the half and went up 2:1 early in the second (and all of a sudden the Ecuadorean fans were visible). But then they started playing defensively (and poorly, lots of long clearances to nobody) and were either gassed or just got out of the game mentally. The final 25 minutes belonged to Mexico, who scored 3 more goals to make it 4-2. And a good time was had by all (except Ecuador).
The fans were really amped up, and about 90% supportive of us Quakes fans. A few gave us a little shit, but it's not like the Mexican national team competes with a non-existent MLS team. And many had fond memories of and good hopes for the future of the Quakes game. Here's hoping when (and it's looking pretty sure now that it's when, not if) we have our team back, some of these fans will come to the games in San Jose.
First up was "Footy Legends", a sports comedy from Australia. Revolving around the story of Luc Vu, a Vietnamese-Australian whose fallen on hard times. He's unemployed, his parents are dead, his grandfather's in a home, and the state is threatening to take his little sister away. Really, he hasn't been having a good life since he captained his high school rugby team to glory. Of course, the rest of the rag-tag team is equally hopeless at this point, and they can't even beat an impromptu team of garbage men. In a last ditch attempt to get work, they register in a local tournament (the winners get jobs as models for a clothing store). So, of course, it follows a pretty generic slobs vs. snobs gritty underdogs triumph over adversity story arc. Everyone's got their problems, and rugby becomes a way to solve everything. The only problem is the movie was just really lackluster. Even knowing very little about the rules of rugby, I could tell the sports scenes were very minor league. Predictability in sports movies can often be forgiven if they're entertaining enough. This one just didn't make it over that hurdle for me.
Next up was a fantastic Taiwanese mindbender/thriller "Do Over", an amazing achievement from debut director Cheng Yu-Chieh. It starts with a film within a film, and continues folding in on itself about five times over, as it keeps skipping back to just before midnight one New Year's Eve. Each time it skips back, it follows the story of a different person at least tangentially connected to the making of the film. The stories involve drugs, gangsters, sick fathers, hallucinations, the whole gamut. Just sit back and enjoy, it's awesome! Oh, and it's finally a movie featuring a character who's a film director by not Korean.
Speaking of Korean directors, I then saw a third movie by Hong Sang-soo, his latest, "Woman on the Beach" (and yes, it features a Korean director character). The director in question is Joong-rae, and he's something of a womanizer. He takes a trip to the seaside to overcome writer's block, but takes his friend Won Chang-wook and Won Chang-wook's sorta girlfriend (although she'd disagree) Kim Moon-sook with him. He immediately starts courting Moon-sook rather than writing, and successfully steals her from Chang-wook. But, since he's sort of a selfish, narcissistic, womanizing jerk and she's a bit more than he bargained for (especially when she admits to sleeping with foreigners when she was studying abroad), his attentions turn to fellow vacationer Choi Sun-hee, and a second love triangle develops. They're some pretty fascinating characters, and it's Hong Sang-soo's most straight-forward narrative yet (in fact, the fact that there wasn't a big break in the narrative actually confused me). Still, there's lots of relationship failure and drinking, which is Hong Sang-soo's real calling card. It was pretty good, but I still like "Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors" much more.
And finally, the last movie of the festival was a rotoscoped Cinderalla by way of Chinese slave girl in New York story "Year of the Fish". A very accomplished, comic-tragic debut feature by New Yorker David Kaplan, it's the story of Ye Xing, a 17-year old Chinese girl who travels to New York to earn money for her sick father. However, she's been sent to work at a "massage parlor" that of course does a little more than just massages. Refusing to become essentially a prostitute, she works scrubbing floors and cooking for the other girls instead of giving massages. And so, of course she is tormented by the more glamorous (i.e., tarted-up) girls (think of them as wicked step-sisters). Luckily, she meets her fairy godmother in the form of Auntie Yaga, a legendary Chinatown figure who runs the most notorious sweatshop in town, and who gives her a pet fish with just a bit of magic in it. And she meets her Prince Charming in the form of a local musician (who's not really rich enough to be a prince, but still does a great job in the role). A charming story that finds hope in the bleakest places, although animated this is not Disney's Cinderella. It's more like a Brothers Grimm version translated to modern New York Chinatown. Very cool.
And that was Asianfest 2007. And for those keeping score at home, that's 159 theatrical movie presentations so far this year. Now I get a little breather until SF International starts. Of course, I might check out some of the Santa Cruz Film Festival, too....
Sunday, March 25, 2007
First up was a documentary program, "The Cats of Mirikitani" with the short film "Pilgrimage". "Pilgrimage" is a short (22 minute) movie about the US Japanese internment camps during WWII. Specifically, it's about Manzanar, the monument there, and the group of former internees who formed the first memorial "pilgrimage" back to Manzanar. It's created in an interesting style, mixing newsreel, archival footage, and present day interviews.
"Pilgrimage" ties in with "The Cats of Mirikitani" because the title figure, Jimmy Mirikitani, is a Japanese American (born in Sacramento), who was interned in the camps. Although we don't know that at first. At first, all we know is he's an artist (who draws a lot of cats, hence the title), and appears to live on the streets in New York. Director Linda Hattendorf befriends him, and after 9/11, she takes him into her apartment. He lives there for 6 months while she (sometimes frustratingly) tries to learn his history, find him a place to live (senior assisted living, he's 80+ years old), tries to get him social security (over his major objections), and--most importantly--shares his art with the world. You see, Jimmy Mirikitani is a self-taught master artist who learned to paint the landscapes outside his internment camp and even became an art teacher there. A fascinating man and a great documentary. Here's a pic of producer Masa Yoshikawa, director Linda Hattendorf, and SFIAAFF director Chi-hui Yang.
And here's the man himself, Jimmy Mirikitani, gracing the audience with a song.
On a tangentially related note, there was a time earlier in the festival that I thought cats might be the animal of Asianfest, the way bunnies were at Indiefest and doggies at Cinequest. It started with opening night, when Breeze Loo in "Finishing the Game" kept referring to everyone as "that cat". There were a couple of others (the hippy zombie in "American Zombie" kept pet cats), but never quite became ubiquitous. But I suppose in a way I could say all the San Jose films (over this last weekend, days 10 and 11) are CATS movies, since they're sponsored by Contemporary Asian Theater Scene. Which means it's kind of a stretch, but I can make the joke that Indiefest did it like bunnies, Cinequest did it doggy-style, and Asianfest was all about the pussy. Maybe it's for the best...
Anyway, right after "Cats of Mirikitani", I was over to the other screen for the Korean historical epic drama/comedy/action/gender-bending love story "The King and the Clown". On release, it was the highest grossing domestic film in South Korean history (since overtaken by "The Host"), and it takes place during the reign of one of the most despotic, maniacal kings of the Chosun Dynasty. It follows the story of a pair of very talented comic acrobats, Jang-seng and Gong-gil. Jang-seng is the strong, stubborn, macho leader. Gong-gil is effeminate, and plays all the female roles in their skits. In fact, for the life of me I thought he was a woman, playing a man playing female roles (The film is purposely ambiguous, and I figured that, like in Shakespeare's time, only men were allowed to be actors, but they were breaking the rules). Only in retrospect, checking online to make sure I got the details right, did this become a very gay movie. Anyway, they escape from their troupe (when Jang-seng is angry/jealous that their director pimps out Gong-gil to a local bigwig, hence making it more confusingly gay), and travel to Seoul to make it big. Once there, their talents are quickly apparent, but drinking with fellow entertainers they Jang-seng discovers that what everyone really jokes about is the King and his famous womanizing. So they start putting on a skit that makes fun of the king, and gets them sent to prison and sentenced to death. However, they make a deal that if they can make the king laugh, they'll be freed. And, to everyone's surprise, the king does laugh (and later acts out their skits with his mistress). So they become court jesters, but court politics gets in the way, and tragic hijinx ensue. Awesome!
Next up was the Bollywood-by-way-of-Oakland fairy tale "The Mistress of Spices", from the creative team behind "Bend it Like Beckham". This time Paul Mayeda Berges, co-writer of "Beckham" and former SFIAAFF director (and husband of "Beckham" director Gurinder Chadha) moves into the director's chair for the first time. The beautiful Aishwarya Rai stars as Lilo, a spice mistress. She was orphaned at a young age, and escaped kidnapping (due to her magic power to see the future) to be picked up by an old woman who teaches the secret of spices. Each spice has its own power, and she can hear the spices speak. Grown up, the spices send her to Oakland to use her power for good. She lives as a sort of half-human/half-mystic, her fate bound to the spices. There are strict rules, which force her to give up any desire. She can't use spice magic for herself, only others; she can't let anyone touch her; and she can never leave her spice shop (never mind how she got there in the first place, it involves walking on fire and waking up where you're meant to be). Anyway, for a while she does an excellent job of helping her customers--finding just the right spices to solve their problems. But then she sees hunk Dylan McDermott, and she's awfully tempted to break her vows. And when she's distracted, she can't hear the spices as well, and bad things happen. As I said, a pretty good fairy tale story, and Aishwarya Rai is beeeeee-yoooo-tiful. The only problem is the inner monologue of her talking to the spices got really old. If they found a better way to show that (and in fairness, I can't think of one), then it would be a really great movie.
Next up was the documentary hit of the festival, "Air Guitar Nation". A documentary about the world Air Guitar championships. And yes, this time it is a real documentary, not a mockumentary (although it's hard to believe for the first 20 minutes or so). If you're wondering why this is in an Asian film festival, it's because Korean-Americans are currently dominating the world of competitive Air Guitar, disciples of this film's hero, C-Diddy (and his "Asian fury, air supremacy). The movies about the World Air Guitar Championship started in Oulo, Finland, and the fact that America--the home of Rock and Roll--has never competed. That is, until 2003. That year the American Air Guitar Championship first crowned a nation champion. The two major competitors are C-Diddy and Swedish-American Bjorn Turoque. There are others, too, but the duel between those two is the heart of the movie. After C-Diddy defeats Bjorn Turoque in NY, he travels to LA to meet the west coast champion in a final air-off. But who should show up to compete in LA but Bjorn himself (who's defeated in the west coast championship by Krye Tuff). C-Diddy beats Krye Tuff to represent the US at the World Championship. But when he gets to Oulo, who's waiting for him but perennial runner-up/sore loser Bjorn. To his credit, in the qualifiers (which C-Diddy skips as the US champion) Bjorn does give the best performance ever (at least in terms of scores--it's scored like figure skating and he got an unheard-of 6.0/6.0/5.9). So it sets up one final showdown in the finals where...I won't give away the ending. Awesome, high energy, and very silly (no matter how seriously they pretend to take it).
And the final movie of the night was the Asian-American gangster movie, "Baby". Moving back and forth in time, it tells the story of the title character, a little kid nicknamed "Baby" by the gangsters next door. When he's just a little kid, he falls in with the gang, which provides an alternative to his alcoholic father. Tommy the leader takes him under his wing, but there's one guy--Benny--who always gives him a hard time. In a gang fight, Tommy gets killed and Baby kills a rival gang member. So he's sent to juvenile detention for 7 years. The movie is really about what happens when he gets out. Benny's now in charge, his father is still messed up (and spending all his money at Benny's club), his girlfriend is with a new guy, and his best friend is trying to keep him out of the gang life. It's a story of his struggle between living the clean life and getting revenge (especially on Benny, who's still giving him all kinds of shit). Very impressive. It's been described as the Asian version of "Boyz 'n the Hood", and I think that's pretty appropriate.
And that was day 10. Just one more day left to write up.
Saturday, March 24, 2007
So the Primitive Screwheads, the fine people who brought you (or me) Evil Dead Live, Re-Animator Live, The Texas Chainsaw Massacres, and the Crazy Go Nuts Show, are wrapping up their run of H 3-D: The True Tale of the Haddonfield Babysitter Murderer (last show tonight, March 24). I skipped out on the SJ opening night of Asianfest to see it, and it was a blast. Based loosely on the Halloween movies, but with lots of silly humor (like Michael Meyers isn't his real name, Michael was his middle name, but his real first name is Oscar), and buckets of blood. Oh yeah, and beer. Yeah, that's the important stuff--blood and beer.
Anyway, here's what I looked like after the show:
And here's some other fans, with cast member Chris Bowen (who played retarded boy Gilhooley Verkamp, and is a very convincing retard)
And, in keeping with my new-found interesting in publishing upcoming cool stuff, look for them to put on Night of the Living Dead...Live, this June!
Friday, March 23, 2007
So this brings up an interesting point. So far this blog has been about chronicling my adventures, so it's all updated post-event. There's very little beyond some quick notes about what's coming up next (granted, I did post a lot about Indiefest before I went, but that's because solving the Indiefest schedule is as much an adventure as anything else). That was fine when I was just writing e-mails to friends and family (which is what this blog grew out of). Now it occurs to me that some of my readers are local and some might be interested in knowing what's coming up. So from now on I'll try to be more proactive at promoting bay area movie events.
- Anime is the one genre where I freely admit I'm less well versed than the average geek (including members of my own family). So while I could tell you it's based on a novel or that director Mamoru Hosoda was originally slated to make "Howl's Moving Castle" or that it has the same art director as "Princess Mononoke" and the same character designer as "Neon Genesis", most people looking for this movie already know that (and a lot more, I only know that from the program notes on the SFIAAFF website).
- I'm tired, and this is about the time in the festival where I can't write much more than 'I saw a movie...and it was good'. So it's really tempting just to write 'I saw "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time' and it was good'.
But instead I'll give you a little more than that. The girl of the title is Makato, a slightly clumsy tomboy and high school senior who's had a really, really bad day. She was late for school, failed a pop quiz, started a fire in cooking class, was accidentally clobbered by two wrestling boys, fell on a weird acorn-looking thing, and to top it all off the brakes on her bike failed and she was hit by a train and died! That is, until she woke up a few seconds earlier, having crashed into a pedestrian instead. Turns out that acorn thingy she fell on gave her the ability to leap back in time. So she uses it to turn her worst (and dying) day into the best day ever. Things seem to be fine, until her friend Chiaki (one of two guys she plays baseball with) suggests they should start dating. She panics and jumps backward, ultimately avoiding that trap, but setting off disastrous consequences that teach her how dangerous time leaping can be. And I won't give away the ending, but it gets even stranger from there. It was good.
And now I'm all caught up with Asianfest. No movie tonight, but 9 more slated for the weekend in San Jose.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
"Virgin Stripped Bare" tells (in two different ways) the story of the romance between attractive TV writer Soo-Jung and her boss's wealthy friend Jae-Hoon. Her boss, director Young-Soo, fills out the love triangle (but really only in one version of the story). By the way, a mini-theme of the festival is Korean directors as characters in movies (or Korean-American, in the case of "American Zombie"). The three of them drink (a lot) together and in the first version of the story Jae-Hoon slowly woos Soo-Jung, who's a virgin. However, halfway through the movie this story abruptly stops (as Soo-Jung) is trapped on stalled cable car (which, by the way, features one of my favorite shots in the movie, a POV shot from the cable car as it ascends). Then the story goes back to the beginning for a retelling/re-imagining. In this story, Young-Soo also woos Soo-Jung (although clumsily and at one time almost raping her). And everything in the first telling happens slightly differently the second time. Perhaps this is a he said/she said scenario, as they both remember the courtship differently. Or perhaps (and this is just my preferred reading) one of the stories is a movie loosely based on their true-life story (and then, of course, the fun comes in thinking about which one is "real" and which one is "just a movie"). Either way, there's some really, really cool tricks Hong Sangsoo pulls off. I just kept thinking as I left, 'this movie contains it's own remake!'. Very cool, and now I'm soooo looking forward to "Woman on the Beach" (and finding DVDs of his other work). Yay!
Here's a pic of Hong Sangsoo from the Q&A after the movie:
But now back to Tuesday's movies. First was a documentary pair, "A Dream in Doubt" with "Someone Else's War". Have I mentioned that the documentaries have been a highlight this year?
"Someone Else's War" was a 30 minute piece about third country nationals (or TCNs) working for Halliburton subsidiaries supporting the soldiers in Iraq. Although Halliburton runs commercials showing Americans talking about how proud they are to be in Iraq supporting the troops, actually 80% of their employees are TCNs, and are almost all from southeast Asia (India, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines, although it's technically illegal for Filipinos to work in Iraq). They're recruited by unscrupulous contractors, given a work order to go to Kuwait, then after arriving told to get on a truck to Iraq or pay a $1000 fine and have no job (this after spending their life savings just paying their way to Kuwait). In Iraq, they're in a fenced off ghetto on base where a dozen men sleep in one shipping container. They basically live in squalor and are paid slave wages. It's sickening. My only complaint about the movie (other than the fact that this story is happening at all) is that it's too short. At 30 minutes it's just starting to feel like there's a feature length movie there, and then it ends. So I'm happy to report that Lee Wang said in the Q&A that he's working on a longer cut.
And the feature doc (although still less than an hour long) was "A Dream in Doubt", about the Sodhi family of Sikhs who immigrated to America from India to practice religious freedom. On September 15, 2001, Balbir Singh Sodhi was the first Sikh murdered in a post-9/11 hate crime. I could rant about the idiot who doesn't know the difference between a Muslim and a Sikh, but really I should rant about the idiot who lumps everyone wearing a turban together with Bin Laden. Thankfully, that particular idiot is rotting in prison for the rest of his life. The movie follows the life of Balbir's brother Rana Sodhi and his family as he struggles with reconciling his belief in the American dream with the 9/11 aftermath of attacks on Sikhs (interestingly enough, they left India in the first place because there was a lot of anti-Sikh sentiment there). Particularly trying were a) the teasing his son (who's a very sweet, intelligent boy) got at school, actually forcing them to switch schools, and b) another brother, Sukhpal, was killed while driving his taxi in San Francisco. Although initially it was assumed to be another hate crime, it is now ruled to be a stray bullet from a nearby gang fight. It's still an unsolved case, and police don't expect it to ever be solved.
The movie also touches on other examples of post-9/11 violence against Sikhs. And although it's easy to be overwhelmed by the few bad apples who make America look like an ignorant country full of murderous assholes, there's also a silver lining shown in the movie--how the community came together to support Rana and his family after Balbir's murder. In the Q&A, Rana said that although he's lost two brothers, the outpouring of support from the community makes him feel like he has hundreds of new brothers. So that leaves me with some hope for America.
Here's a pic of "A Dream in Doubt" director Tami Yeager, Rana Sodhi, co-producer Preetmohan Singh, and "Some Else's War" director Lee Wang:
And the second movie of the night was the Filipino supernatural thriller "Ang Pamana: The Inheritance". It's a story of Filipino-American siblings Johny and Anna who travel back to the Philippines for their grandmother's funeral. The inherit the choice piece of property--the family's estate farm--which pisses off the rest of the family until they learn that it also includes taking care of Tommy, the mentally retarded boy who lives on the farm. They travel there with Vanessa, a smoking hot socialite who (sadly for Johnny) is their cousin. When they get there, they slowly learn that the farm is haunted by monsters from Filipino traditional folk tales (particularly Manananggal--a beautiful woman who splits in half at the waist and turns into a fetus-eating vampire, and the Kapres--a tree giant who smokes cigars). I thought it was a pretty good monster thriller, but the mostly Filipino audience was totally eating it up. These are monsters that every Filipino knows about (as I found talking to my Filipino friends at work the next day).
This has actually been a theme in movies for me this year--every festival I seem to see a movie or two that, while enjoyable, is aimed at an audience other than me. "Rolling" at Indiefest was aimed at users of ecstasy. At Cinequest, "The Namesake" was great but the Indians in the audience were cracking up at things I thought were mildly amusing. And now "Ang Pamana" continues that trend. I actually really like it, because it gives me a taste of the culture and with the right audience I can feel when a movie really works with it's audience. This one totally worked.
Here's a pic of director Romeo Candido, asying a few words before the screening:
And here he is again with some of the cast at the Q&A after the film:
- Although AAFF will continue without state funding, this is a de facto censorship attempt.
- I applaud the AAFF for rejecting state funding rather than limit their programming.
- The opposing argument is ignorant on many levels, the foremost of which is that by inspiring people (and bringing people to town) the film festival (and art in general) creates economic and social benefits for the greater community, not just the small segment of the population that actually views it.
- AAFF has been around for 45 years, and only used state funds for the last 10. Although they might not be able to maintain the scope they'd like, I'm confident they'll survive.
- The use of the word "pornography" is misleading and a distraction from the debate.
- On NPR, one of the arguments the pro-AAFF interviewee made (and I didn't hear the whole story, as I had to catch the BART for Asianfest) was that an extremely passionate kiss might fit the definition of "sex acts" that Michigan refuses to fund.
- However, of the movies listed in the opposing essay, the one feature I've seen, "What Is It?" goes far beyond passionate kissing. On the opposite side, "Boobie Girl" is an award winning animated short and it's only sexual content is the word "boobie" in the title. I haven't seen the other films mentioned.
- Finally, AAFF bills itself as "the oldest festival in North America that showcases independent and experimental film." I will ponder that as I attend the 50th SF International Film Festival next month. Seriously, it sounds like they're playing a little fast and loose with the whole "showcases independent and experimental film" designation. Perhaps SFIFF hasn't always shown independent and experimental film? I haven't been around for it's whole history. Or perhaps SFIFF's programming has too many mainstream or international films for AAFF's definition? I don't know.
Okay, that is all. Gotta go back to writing up Asianfest now.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Okay, going back to last Sunday, I started the day with the Filipino psychological thriller "Blackout". Gil, an alcoholic landlord (you could call him a slumlord but for the fact that he lives in his own rundown apartment) wakes up from one of his frequent blackouts to find that his car has a cracked headlight with blood on it. What follows is a tight, gripping thriller with a bit of a "Memento" fell in how it explores lapses in memory (although "Memento" is a lot more formalized). Gil's drinking has already cost him his wife, forcing him to raise his adorable son Nino alone. Now it might have caused him to run over the neighbor's daughter, and could cost him his freedom or worse. He struggles with giving up drinking, he struggles with hiding the evidence of his crime, and he struggles with remembering watch actually happened. And the ending is a pretty good shock, too (but no spoilers here).
Then I got rush tickets for the shorts program, "Love's Labor and Other Complications". This is the shorts compilation about relationships. The quick rundown:
"Enough"--Sometimes sleeping with your yoga instructor just doesn't help. Sometimes cleaning house does.
"Stutter"--a woman starts a new relationship, only to find he's an abusive jerk who won't let her walk away.
"Police Box"--a funny, silent love triangle between a man, a woman, and a policemen who checks a box by a restaurant every day at the same time. Notes are passed and hilarity ensues.
"Mei"--Mei works in her father's noodle house in Taiwan. She's torn between her dream of going to America and her father and Jian, the kind boy who works in the restaurant who has fallen in love with her. Watching this really made me want to eat a big bowl of noodles.
"His Deafness"--A man has trouble hearing his girlfriend (because he's always daydreaming). But because he wants to be more thoughtful, he tries to do the right thing. He gets plastic surgery to get comically huge ears.
"Fortune Hunters"--A fortune writer has a bad breakup, and it affects his work. Especially when he mistakenly sends his apology letter to the printers and the fortunes he wrote to his ex.
"Traffic in the Sky"--Ryan, on the rebound, relives relationship mistakes. But from a different point of view.
Next up was a Cambodian-American documentary, "New Year Baby". And I should pause to say that the documentaries this year have been fantastic (and that's not even counting "The Great Happiness Space" which I saw last year at Docfest). Socheata Poeuv is the titular character, born on the Cambodian New Year (which is supposed to mean good luck). Now that she's 25 years old and they live in Texas, her family gives her a huge surprise--her oldest brother is actually her half-brother, and her two sisters are actually her cousins. Her parents have never spoken about life under the Khmer Rouge, so she travels back with her parents and brother (it was too painful for her sisters to return) to learn about how her parents survived, how they were forced to marry (they were given the choice of whether or not they wanted to get married, but not whom to marry). How her aunt and uncle were killed and her cousins were adopted by her mother. How her soft spoken, kind father who doesn't really seem to fit with her mother is really a hero. A "Cambodian Cowboy" who married his mother to help her take care of her children, then when the Khmer Rouge took over he smuggled them across the border, making 4 trips (7 illegal crossings all together) to get them all across (and their sewing machine). An extremely moving film with some surprising humor in it as well.
Then I saw the beautifully shot comedy/drama of three Asian-American women, "Tie a Yellow Ribbon". Jenny, Bea, and Sandy (very intentionally American names), all live in the same building. Jenny is a Korean adoptee, who has left her family (we later learn over incest issues with her brother--ick!), and for obvious reasons has some issues with intimacy. She moves in with Bea, an aspiring model who's dating her photographer (who's just using her). Their neighbor is Sandy, described as a "mouse" because she's so quiet and the perfect stereotype of the timid Asian woman (which I've found doesn't actually exist in real life). Together they each try to find love and survive in New York. Often whimsical, it also gets deadly serious at times, and the movie (and Q&A afterwards) taught me that Asian American women have an abnormally high rate of suicide (who knew?)
And finally, the movie described as the Korean "Goodfellas" (although I'd go with Korean version of the half of "Godfather II" that tells the story of Don Corleone's rise to power)--"Dirty Carnival". Byung-doo is a young gangster although he barely makes ends meet as a very low level boss. The movie follows his rise (and fall) concurrent with the rise of his childhood friend, a film director who is making a movie about gangsters and using him as a source of material. A powerful, well-made movie that is an excellent addition to the Korean gangster genre (or any gangster genre--I fully expect an American remake within a few years, especially since "The Departed" won the Oscar). It's equal parts human drama and brutal fisticuffs (they have an interesting code of ethics that requires them to fight with fists and bats first--to bring out a knife or god forbid a gun is a dangerous act of escalation). And it's equal parts comedy and tragedy. And it's an incredibly entertaining movie.
And that's last Sunday at Asianfest.
Monday, March 19, 2007
First, I want to say a few words about the festival trailer, which can be found here. It was made by the awesome creative team that made "Colma: The Musical" and is possibly my favorite festival trailer ever, even though I'll never get that damn nonsensical song out of my head. But more importantly, on opening night the audience was told there would be three trivia questions related to the trailer. Since I won't be able to make it to the closing night gala, I'm allowing any loyal reader who will be there to claim the prize. The answers are: The horse (upper right corner) falls down, loses his head, puts it back on, and hides in the background for the rest of the number. There are three (3) people in SFFD uniforms (presumably actually SFFD officers?). And the stuffed yellow duck is held by a little girl on the right side of the screen. She throws it weakly forward and then a woman (possibly her mom?) picks it up and throws it high in the air over the upper right corner of the screen. It lands with a quack! If any of you win anything by reading this, please let me know!
Okay, now on to the movies, starting with "Power of Kangwon Province", part of the retrospective of Hong Sang-soo movies the festival is putting on. I've never actually seen a Hong Sang-soo film, although I heard about "Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors" (which I'll see Wednesday night), so it's exciting for me to learn about a new director. It's a movie that requires patience, which is part of the point as it follows two nearly parallel (in that they kind of intersect, although not during the true narrative) stories of people leaving the stress of the city for a vacation in the nature parks of Kangwon Province. First there's Ji-Sook, a student on a holiday with her friends Misun and Eunkyoung. Ji-Sook is kind of a scatterbrain, or so it appears to her friends. They spend their days hiking and hanging out, and eventually she has an affair with a policeman, even though she's just gotten over a different affair. The second story is about Sangkwon, an unemployed teacher who heads out on his own Kangwon vacation with his friend. They do a little hiking during the day, but mostly they go drinking and pick up prostitutes at night, although he too, has just gotten over an affair. In fact, it was an affair with Ji-Sook, and neither knows that they're both in Kangwon to get over each other. It takes some patience to figure out, and now knowing it I believe I'd get more out of watching it a second time (which is how I justify throwing that spoiler in, it's not so much about the narrative as about the characters and the mistakes they make--and repeat--in relationships).
Next up was an appropriately titled love triangle, "Tre". Tre is a boorish, obnoxious, but clever and possibly even perceptive slacker. He's old friends with Gabe, and shows up at Gabe's place in the middle of the night drunk off his ass. His girlfriend just kicked him out, and he has nowhere else to go. So Gabe lets him crash on the couch, much to the annoyance of Gabe's girlfriend Kakela and her friend Nina, who's just left her husband and is staying in the guest room (or as Tre thinks of it--his room). Tre is immediately a force of chaos and something of a cancer in their house. And as obnoxious as he is, apparently there's something attractive about him, because he beds first Nina and then Kakela (even though Gabe proposes to her and she says yes). Some of that seems unlikely, although I paid attention to their beer preferences in an early scene where all four were out on the patio at sunset, and I predicted then based on beer preferences that Tre would get together with Kakela (although I have no idea if that was intentional). All in all, it's a pretty good anti-romance sex drama. Here's a pic of writer/actress Kimberly-Rose Wolter (Kakela), director Eric Byler, and SFIAAFF (Asianfest) Assistant Director Taro Goto (at least the back of his head):
Next up was the brilliant documentary "American Zombie", by Grace Lee (of "The Grace Lee Project"). Some documentary filmmakers specialize in bizarre, fascinating subjects. Others make their name by pushing hot-button political or social topics. But Grace Lee is actually one of my favorite documentarians because she takes fairly simple (in retrospect maybe even obvious) subjects and makes great movies just on the strength of her filmmaking and storytelling abilities. For example, in "The Grace Lee Project" she used her identity as a Korean American woman as a starting point and sought out anyone else with the name Grace Lee, finding what's similar and what's remarkable about them. It's really a remarkable movie about identity, stereotypes, and rising above those stereotypes. Much the same can be said about "American Zombie". We all know zombies (the undead, revenants, decedents, the nonliving community, etc.) exist. We probably see them everyday. But have you ever actually looked past the stereotypes? The focus of this movie, for obvious reasons, is on the "high functioning" zombies (as opposed to low-functioning or feral zombies), zombies who can almost pass as human. And we meet some very interesting characters, like Joel, the leader of ZAG (Zombie Advocacy Group); or Lisa, a hippie zombie who makes representational string art and wants to know who she was before she died; or Judy, who tries to pass as human; or Ivan, who has a human girlfriend (although he loses her to his tempermental roommate Glen). And they managed to get some footage of "Live Dead", a sort of Burning Man for zombies, complete with human sacrifice (I've got a great idea for a theme camp this year!) Grace is assisted by John Solomon, a film school friend of hers who actually brought the subject to her, but unfortunately has more of a sensationalistic, confrontational take on it. Anyway, here's a picture of zombies Glen, Judy, and Lisa with director Grace Lee and co-writer Rebecca Sonnenshine:
Then I ended the night with the shorts program "The End of the World as We Know It", here's the quick rundown:
"Dry Clean Only"--the key to working in a dry cleaner is never ask questions, even if the couple who come in covered in blood demand you clean their close now. On second thought, make that "especially if...."
"Ninja Apocalypse!"--Damn ninjas are everywhere! Don't get bit, or you'll turn into one. Also, beware the redneck warmonger who's taken charge of the building where you've holed up, he's kind of an asshole.
"Digitopia"--Ha ha, it has a double meaning, digital and digits as in fingers. There's also eyes and stuff and it's quite a weird little music video.
"The Chinese Connection"--Sometimes it's hard to find your own kind. Online dating can make it easier, but when there's only one Chinese family in town, it can also make it very awkward.
"The Extra Terrestrial Girl Who Is On Earth By Mistake"--Ummm...pretty self-explanatory, isn't it? Oh, she looks like an ordinary girl (and in fact was one yesterday), but look at her reflection in the mirror!
"The Celery Stalker"--This is my new favorite thing (or at least it was for a while). A bizarre little tale of lies, absurdity, and vegetables.
"Russian Hill Roulette"--Frank Yeean Chan rides his bike up the 6 steepest hills in San Francisco. It's exhausting just watching him.
"My Own Private Belly Dancer"--A nerdy scientist wants to get the girl, but is thwarted and then aided by a belly dancer only he can see.
"Equal Opportunity"--Okay, now this is my new favorite thing. An office full of people hurling offensive slurs at each other. Their boss is a cross-dressing midget in a wheelchair.
"Pandamania"--The True Hollywood Story of Tai Shan, the first Panda born in the US (on loan from the People's Republic of China).
"B.M.K. (Big Magnum Killer)"--Ironically titled, as it's really about jump-rope on the beach. And some silly music and stuff. And it's a lot of fun.
There were filmmakers in attendance, but I didn't really get a usable shot of them (which is really bad, considering some of the dark, blurry pics I have posted).
And that was day 3 of Asianfest.
Saturday, March 17, 2007
I was back at the Castro last night for two movies. First was "Summer Palace", easily the most sexually explicit film I've ever seen from mainland China. A decades long story of passion and political change, it starts in 1987, with Yu Hong (Hao Lei) arriving as a student in Beijing University. She meets Zhou Wei (Guo Xiadong) and they start a steamy love affair. Of course, this is also a tumultuous political time, coming to a head with the events of Tianamen Square. But what really surprised me (and makes me want to go back for a second look, when I know better what to expect), is that Tianamen Square, while possibly the climactic scene, is really the halfway point in the movie, as their stories start to diverge it continues for decades beyond, set against the political backdrop of the fall of communism elsewhere. Zhou moves to Berlin where he witness the collapse of East Germany (including a voice sample of Tom Brokaw reporting about it). Meanwhile Yu goes back to her village and gets married. Although their lives diverge, when they meet again there is still a spark of passion. Very interesting, longer than I thought it would be, and definitely worth a second look.
Then there was the event I was looking forward to since it was announced weeks ago. John Carpenter's "Big Trouble in Little China", on the big screen! And not only that, shown as part of the SF Asian American Film Festival. Finally I can enjoy that movie without feeling a little racist guilt at the overblown Chinese stereotypes, since I saw it with an audience of Asians. Unfortunately, when the crowd was mostly settled in and I surveyed the crowd, it was the whitest audience I've ever seen at an Asian film festival. There were some Asians there, but it was predominantly white guys. So I'll go back to my old justifications for why I'm not racist for liking "Big Trouble in Little China". First, the stereotypes are so overblown that they can't possibly be taken seriously. Second, while it's a fun action movie ride, it's also a playful parody of action movies, including Hong Kong action movies, and so it plays up stereotypes that were built up there. Third, the Chinese characters kick so much more ass than Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) that it's more a parody of the macho white guy. Jack's an all-American trucker and one of his stops is San Francisco's Chinatown. He has friends there, most notably Wang Chi (Dennis Dun), who looks like the scrawny sidekick character, but is really the hero. While picking up Wang Chi's fiance Miao Yin (Suzee Pai) from the airport, she's kidnapped by the Lords of Death, errand boys to the Wang Kong, and sold into a brothel. Along the way he meets Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall), find out that Miao Yin has been kidnapped by David Lo Pan, the godfather of Chinatown who is a 2000+ year old ghost tormented by a demon until he can marry and then kill a girl with green eyes. So they have to fight him, with the help of local sorcerer/tour bus driver Egg Shen (Victor Wong). And I no longer care if it's racist. It's hilarious and it's rocking good time. Like Jack Burton always says..."What the Hell?"
Friday, March 16, 2007
First, a few notes about how I do Asianfest. They don't have a pass to see everything unless you donate a whole lot of money, and I'm just not that rich/motivated. So for this one I'm buying individual tickets. Also, tickets over the web have a service fee attached, so I buy tickets at the theater the day of the event. This is kind of a mixed blessing. The bad part is some shows sell out and I'll miss them, or even if I don't there's the stress of waiting in a rush line hoping to get tickets. The good part is I can decide day by day what I want to see or even if I have the energy to go up to the city and see anything. I know that sounds crazy, since of course I want to see everything. But dammit, I just got over seeing 53 Cinequest films, and I'm exhausted. I'll try to hold off burn-out for another week, then rest up before the SF International.
Anyway, opening night was at the fabulous Castro Theater, and they had a pretty well packed house for Justin Lin's ("Better Luck Tommorow", "Annapolis", "Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift") new mockumentary, "Finishing the Game". In fact, so packed that they cordoned off the center section for the first dozen rows or so just for VIPs. So for a while it looked like I'd have to sit in the front row way off to the side. But when the lights went down and there were still seats in the front row center section, I sneaked over there, two seats right of center.
As for the movie, it's based on the fact that when Bruce Lee died unexpectedly in 1973, he left unfinished his dream project, "Game of Death". In reality, 5 years later the 30 minutes of footage he had shot was inserted into a "finished" version of the movie with a whole new cast and a couple of stand-ins for Bruce Lee. In "Finishing the Game", Justin Lin imagines the first attempt, just after Bruce's death, to finish the movie. So it follows the stories of several actors vying for the part of Bruce Lee. Included are the pretty boy Bruce Lee rip-off Breeze Loo (a take-off on Bruce Li), the Indian doctor Raja (a karate expert who's also Breeze Loo's stunt double), the white guy who claims to be half Chinese and doesn't realize he's an outsider in Asian American culture, and many others. Oh yeah, and Colgate Kim, a wannabe actor who's girlfriend is his manager and who's first gig turns out to be a porn shoot (any movie in which a character accidentally wanders onto a porn set gets a few extra points in my book). And Troy Poon, a talented actor who's career ended abruptly when his white co-star on a hit cop show was found dead of autoerotic asphyxiation surrounded by several embarrassing implements. And Remy Nguyen, a timid, sad Vietnamese man who's family was all killed in the war. Okay, that's enough, it's got a huge, talented cast (more on that later), and some hilarious jokes. In particular, the clip from the Breeze Loo movie where he battles an evil wizard/Nazi sympathizer--"Fists of Fuhrer", is brilliant. But let me not spoil too much. I had a great time watching the wacky hijinx as the casting process turns into a shambles.
Here's a pic of director Justin Lin talking just before the movie:
Thursday, March 15, 2007
First, the closing awards before "The Owl and the Sparrow". They did something new this year by inviting all the filmmakers on stage for the awards. Here's a pic (and I'm sorry I couldn't get everyone in the shot):
This created a couple of moments that I loved. First, all the filmmakers got 2 standing ovations (one when they got on stage, and one after all the awards were given). Second, you can see the winning filmmakers reactions when their name is called. It's sort of a "Miss America" moment, and especially nice if you're in the front row and have a good view of the filmmakers. The look on Cullen Hoback's face when "Monster Camp" was announced as the audience award for best documentary was priceless.
In other awards, you can see the official Cinequest wrap-up and awards here. Some of my comments:
"Indestructible" as best documentary is exactly right!
I was surprised that "Blood Car" won the jury award for New Visions, but pleasantly surprised. I didn't think the jury had the right kind of retarded sense of humor.
The more I think about it, "Outsourced" was a charming crowd-pleaser, but also the most predictable movie in the festival. I'm sure it'll get picked up for distribution (if it isn't alread).
Somehow, even seeing 53 movies, I managed to miss the best narrative shorts ("Dinner for One" for the jury prize and "Gordo" for the audience prize) and the Maverick Spirit winner, "The Bothersome Man".
That reminds me, with seeing 53 movies, the ones I'm most sorry I missed--based on what I've heard from other people--are "The Bothersome Man", "Pure Hearts", and "Holes In My Shoes".
Oh yeah, and 53 movies in a single festival is a new record for me. Cinequest claims the attendance was 70,102, but I'm assuming they counted me 53 times, so it's at most 70,049. And I know many other people saw multiple movies. I didn't meet anyone who saw more than me, but if everyone had than it would really just be 1,322.7 people. Or, to put it another way, the total attendance this year was just short of 1,323 Jasons.
So with seeing so many movies, it's only natural to ask what my favorite was (I got that a lot). Well, I can't narrow it down to one, and I'm sure I'm forgetting some great ones, but the movies I've often answered when asked are (in no particular order):
"Seven and a Half"
"A Dog's Breakfast"
"You Are Here"
"The White Silk Dress" (despite a few problems, I have to mention it as the best tear-jerker in the festival)
"The Prince's Respite"
All the Mindbener shorts, especially "Máquina"
Yeah, that's a good bunch of movies there. Really, the ones I remember a few months from now are the really great ones.
This year I spent more time partying with filmmakers than in previous years, aided by the fact that I was taking the light rail into work at night and often there was almost an hour long wait between the last movie I saw and when the train came by. That was very cool. I must keep doing that in subsequent years.
Although I didn't keep track, I probably averaged less than 4 hours of sleep per day during the festival, many days only getting 2 hours. That was brutal. I think I gave myself a mild case of caffeine poisoning. Cocaine is a hell of a
And that's it for Cinequest, 2007!
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
First up was the short film, "Polka", a simply drawn, sweet animated piece about a girl who plays the violin and attempts to woo the businessman at the bus station. She fails to even attract his attention every day, until finally succeeding purely by chance.
Then there was the feature--a high school gay already-out movie "The Curiosity of Chance". It takes place overseas, in an American high school in Belgium, in the 80's (with enough 80's fashion, hairdos, and music to make a Smurf vomit). Anyway, the hero--Chance Marque--is an intelligent, iconoclastic, out gay boy. So of course he gets picked on by the steroid-addled football (that is soccer football, not American football) captain. But he also befriends his neighbor (who's also on the football team, and who just might be gay, too, or maybe it's all Chance's fantasy), makes a few weird friends, becomes a drag star, and greatly disappoints his military dad. But of course, it's an 80's (style) movie, so there is a happy ending. But along the way, there's a little strife and mostly a lot of laughs. Pretty cool all around.
Here's a pic of cinematographer Jack Messitt, director Russell P. Marleau, and producers Lisa Schahet and Kacy Andrews (unfortunately I lost my notes regarding who is who. I should confess, I was keeping all this on my cell phone, and it ran out of memory and I had to wipe everything. Fortunately I e-mailed these photos to myself from my cell phone before it died)
And here's a pic of that last producer (Lisa Schahet or Kacy Andrews) with stars Chris Mulkey (Chance's strict father, just called "Sir"), and Aldevina da Silva (Chance's sassy friend Twyla)
Alright, then it was over to the Rep one last time for "Midnight Clear". A few things I didn't know about this movie when I scheduled it: Stephen Baldwin's in it--cool! Director Dallas Jenkin's father Jerry B. Jenkins is the best-selling author of the "Left Behind" series of novels (I haven't read them, but my understanding is they're Christian novels about people--many of whom thought they were good Christians--who are left on earth after the rapture). I also didn't know that Stephen Baldwin had become a born-again Christian about 5 years ago. So it kind of surprised me when a movie that was very dark ended up having a positive, uplifting Christian message. Now, I've written before about how I'm not religious. In fact, I've written about being an atheist. But that doesn't keep me from enjoying a good story that happens to promote religious values. "Midnight Clear" is a very well made, well acted, and especially well written movie of intersecting stories (a la "Crash") about several desperate people on Christmas Eve. Stephen plays the lynchpin, Lefty (so named not because he's left-handed, but because he was so poor growing up that he had to borrow his big brother's left-handed baseball mitt). Lefty just got laid off at work for being drunk, got evicted from his apartment, and is in a legal fight with his ex-wife for visitation rights with his children. Nothing is going right for him. Meanwhile there's an old woman pretending to be preparing for a big Christmas dinner with a family who isn't coming to visit. There's a woman and her son visiting her brain damaged husband in the hospital. He used to be the church's youth group pastor, and the new pastor (who was in the car when he had the accident resulting in brain damage, but walked away okay) is having trouble motivating the youths the way he used to. And finally, there's an out-of-the-way gas station where the attendant, who once had dreams of making the gas station a huge success, still toils through a boring day with no customers. Things all come together, and without giving anything away, up until the last 10 minutes it could have a big downer indie-movie ending. But instead it has a positive Christian message. And without converting myself, I can still find it uplifting to see desperate people find solace in going to church on Christmas eve. Here's a picture of stars Kirk B. R. Woller, Stephen Baldwin, and Dallas Jenkins.
Okay, then I took a chance on a movie that sounded pretty weird and somewhat experimental, and turned out to be pretty funny, "Celluloid #1". It's a pretty wicked parody of filmmaking, specifically egocentric arthouse auteurs. Clayton Beaubien used to be the darling of the underground cinema scene, but he's now reduced to rumormongering on a Hollywood gossip show. He's attempting a comeback with an interview piece about empty Hollywood glamour starring Caprice Geoffrey, the equally egocentric star of the hit "White Bitch" (who, to quote the movie, has "got it goin' on"). In his way is her manager, Cyndi, who tries to protect her image. Shot in artistic/pretentious black and white (until they run out of B&W stock and switch to color, right when Caprice is praising the decision to use B&W), the whole thing runs like a parody of arthouse films, and a parody of "making of" documentaries. It took me a little while to get what was happening (I assume I did--it's a parody, right?), but then I was totally grooving on it. Here's a pic of director Steve Staso, star Julie Atlas Muz (who showed everyone how much she had going on in a burlesque show out in front of the theater the night before and an even burlesque-ier show at the after party), and writer Keith Bunker (whose birthday was that day, so happy birthday Keith!):
Okay, then it was back to the fabulous California Theater for the closing night. I ran just in time to get front row, 1 seat off-center (some of my fellow front row center friends got there first). They announced the awards, but I'll put that in a separate post. Right now I just want to write up the closing night film.
"The Owl and the Sparrow" is a charming little movie from Vietnam. Thuy is a little (~8 year old?) girl who works in her uncle's factory. Her parents are dead, so her uncle is actually her legal guardian, but he's more interested in putting her to work than being a parent. When she's scolded for a mistake at work, she runs away to the city (Saigon), where she lives on the street and survives on the kindness of strangers (and by selling postcards and then flowers). Two of the strangers she meets and befriends are Lan--a beautiful flight attendant who takes Thuy in and lets her stay in her apartment--and Hai, a friendly zookeeper who talks to the animals. In fact, Hai has had such bad luck in love that he's more comfortable around his animals than around people. Lan, also, has been unlucky in love. So Thuy hatches a plan to get them together so they can all be a family. A sweet, charming, and beautifully shot movie. Here's a pic of director Stephane Gauger, star Cat Ly, and the third guy I have noted was a producer, but I lost my not of his name.
Okay, and that was Cinequest 17, I'll have one more wrap-up post shortly.
Okay, this is a few days late. Cinequest is over, and I've gotta finish writing it up before I go to the Asian American Festival starting tomorrow. On the plus side, I'm reasonably well rested now.
Of course, I couldn't say that Saturday morning, when, with about 2 hours of sleep, I started early to see "Love Sick", a Romanian about about sexual perversion. This was the one movie where sitting in my customary front row center seat was not really a good idea. As I said, I was already very tired. Also, there were a lot of close-ups in this movie. And there were a lot of subtitles, that often went by pretty fast. As a result I couldn't read and watch the characters quickly enough. So I kinda dozed in and out during the movie. But I could follow the basic story--young college girl falls in love with a (female) classmate, her brother goes crazy with jealousy. Yup, there's lesbians and there's incest. And I could tell the acting was great and it was very well made, I just regret I was physically unable to give it the attention it deserved. Hopefully it'll play at another film festival in the area, or will be available on DVD. Of course, given it's gay content, it's likely to play in the SF bay area again, so I'll keep an eye out for it. Oh yeah, and there was a quick doggy cameo I caught in the background while one of the girls was getting into a cab.
Next up was another entry into my favorite little niche of filmdom--a Balkan comedy, "Two Players From the Bench". More dark slapstick absurdity, this time with a political, post-war twist. It opens with Ante, a big, loudmouth Croatian, singing with his Croatian buddies about how the Hague will never convict indicted war criminal Colonel Skoko (who's only seen in photos, and kinda looks like Sean Bean). He's approached by a mysterious man in a suit who asks him if he really wants to help Skoko. He agrees, and is then taken to an undisclosed location and introduced to Katran, a wimpy little Serbian. Katran's there because his brother-in-law betrayed him, stole his wife, and sold him ostensibly for his kidneys. Turns out he was sold, and Ante volunteered--to play stand-ins for exonerating witnesses for Skoko. Turns out they're dead ringers for guys who allegedly kidnapped the colonel at the time when he was allegedly committing his massacre. Ante's all for it, but Katran has reservations--mainly because Skoko slaughtered his unit in the war. Of course, when Ante learns Katran is Serbian, he finds out that Katran's unit actually slaughtered his unit. So there's a little tension. Of course, they're both pawns, and ultimately greedy and so can be bribed into anything. And wacky, wacky hijinx ensue. I loved it, and I suppose it can be seen as an interesting examination of post-war Balkans, racism, and cooperation. But really, I just liked the jokes.
So next up was definitely the most fearless and personal (and also the best) documentary of the festival. "Indestructible" is the story of Ben Byer, a struggling actor/filmmaker and an energetic, reasonably athletic 31 year old father of a beautiful son. And then he was struck with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, aka ALS, aka Lou Gehrig's disease. So he turns the camera on himself, and over three years, with the help of his family and friends, documents his deterioration. The result (and by the way, he's still alive, was at the screening and could still be filming and editing today if they didn't decide they needed to just finish it and get it out there) is amazing. His journey takes him to China for an herbal cure, which is semi-successful (at least it seems to slow the progression). He stays in China for an experimental spinal operation that ranges from useless to dangerous. Back home to recuperate he realizes that the operation was a failure, and documents his daily home life--ranging from hilarious (most of the time with his adorable son) to heartbreaking (a family fight which to me is the key to the film). Ultimately his journey takes him back to his Jewish roots and a trip to Israel to find religious meaning, which ends it on a nicely poignant note. I just have to say one more thing about the family fight. It wasn't anyone's best personal moment, but without it everyone in the movie is a saint and no one's a real person. This movie stretched my emotional limits in only two hours, I can't imagine how everyone involved suffered through this for 2 years (at the time, 5 years now). And watching someone who can barely stand up get up and storm/stagger out of a room, only to stagger back just to tell everyone off is a truly extraordinary sight. Oh yeah, and he owned a doggy and keep watching through the credits--there's a bonus doggy scene at the end.
Okay, so then I walked over to the California Theater to catch the first one and a half stories of "Seven and a Half". As you may recall, I screwed up the previous weekend and arrived about a half hour late to it. Luckily it was a series of vignettes and I could follow the rest without missing the first one. Anyway, the opening credits were really cool, and foreshadowed everything in cartoon silhouettes. Then the opening sin was Greed--two con artists/soccer fans write a letter to Maradona begging him for charitable money, only to realize--just after they mailed it--that they forgot to translate it into Spanish. And then the beginning of Wrath--turns out the steroid addled boxer is out to get the guy who kicked his ass 5 years ago. At the time, he was just a scrawny kid. Then the ass-kicker got sent to prison, and the scrawny kid worked out (and took steroids) every day until he was a bigger ass-kicker, but one who couldn't control his rage. Oh, and other things I noticed--the cafe featured in the Envy segment was also shown in Greed and Wrath. And I think I noticed the pig from Gluttony in the gym in Wrath, but it might have been a different guy. So just watching the first 30 minutes, I can tell it's a movie that greatly rewards multiple viewings.
Okay, then I snuck out of the rest of "Seven and a Half" to see the rest of the shorts program "Docu-nation". As you may recall, I saw "Half-Life: A Journey to Chernobyl" earlier in the week.
"The Fighting Cholitas"--Cholitas are indigenous Bolivian women, who wear the traditional large, colorful skirts. The Fighting Cholitas still wear the skirts, but take them into the wrestling wring. Another movie about Lucha Libre for justice (this time racial and gender respect)? This just begs the question: can two movies make a theme?
"A Prayer for Area 23"--I saw this docu-poem about children with AIDS in Africa at Indiefest. But this time I noticed it was produced by Stray Dog Films, so it's another doggy movie.
"Relative Freedom"--Joe Kuehne interviews his very strict, religious family about their reactions to him coming out as a homosexual. Inspired, funny, and occasionally tragic. Although mostly funny, since I really can't sympathize with anyone who breaks into tears because her brother is gay.
"Spitfire 944"--William Lorton inspects his grandfather's old WWII 16mm movies. He wants to find anyone in the footage, and when he realizes he can look up the serial number (944) of the Spitfire he saw crash, and find out who the pilot was, he gets a brilliant idea. This was my favorite one of the series.
"Stringers"--A day in the highly competitive lives of cameramen who make a living selling their footage to news stations. Pretty cool.
And here's a picture of John Alberts who directed "A Prayer for Area 23" and William Lorton who directed "Spitfire 944":
And finally there was the brilliant cannibalistic serial killer mockumentary, "Long Pigs". What more do I need to say besides "cannibalistic serial killer mockumentary". Well, I guess I should say that maybe "mockumentary" is not the right word, because they really play this seriously, not for laughs. And I should say it's very well done and was the perfect Cinequest midnight movie. And I should say the sped-up butchering scene is brilliant. And I should say I never knew the importance of tying off the anus to prevent feces from infecting the meat. And I should say there's a brief scene of a doggy barking in a yard.
Here's two pictures of the makers of "Long Pigs", unfortunately I lost my notes on who is who. And more importantly, who cares? It's just more poorly lit, lo-res camera phone garbage.