Monday, April 30, 2007

Jason goes to SF International--day 4

Yesterday (Saturday) I started off with a challenge--"Colossal Youth", so today I decided to start light, with "Up, Up, and Away", a collection of family friendly short films. Let's jump right in:
"First Flight"--I've seen this one before, but I don't remember where. An uptight businessman learns to loosen up to help a baby bird learn to fly.
"Dorme"--An awesome visual trip through dreamland. Here's a pic of the director Sylvia Binsfield, star Zachary Nascar, and cinematographer Svetlana Cvetko:

And here's another pic of the dreaming boy Zachary Nascar with the little emperor in his dream, Brent Sakihara:

"Knuffle Bunny"--A very sweet story of parents, their baby girl, and her stuffed bunny. Based on a kid's book of the same name.
"Ricochet"--Marbles, racism, politics, and learning to share.
"The Fan and the Flower"--I've seen this before, too. Bill Plympton's one non-f'ed up movie, about the love affair between a ceiling fan and a potted plant.
"I Want to Be a Pilot"--In the slums of East Africa, a little boy dreams of flying to a world where his parents are still alive, he's not impoverished, and kids aren't afraid to play with him just because he's HIV positive. Kind of heavy for a kids movie.
"Peter Pan Has Grown Up and John Lennon Is Dead"--But Peter Pan still visits kids and shares Tinkerbell with kids who need a little hope.
"Ride of the Mergansers"--A short documentary about the birth and first days of a clutch of hooded merganser hatchlings. Adorable.

And the I went to another shorts program, the distinctly not kids-friendly "Desperately Seeking Images". Here we go:
"Woman and Gramophone"--Woman, alone, bored, plays things other than records on her record player.
"We Are Everywhere"--A bit of quick thinking saves some youths from getting mugged.
"Tube With A Hat"--A father/son journey to repair a busted television set in Romania.
"Greyhounds"--Two couples--one considerably more sexually free (and believe German is the sexiest language in the world), spend a night of drinking. I had to look up that a greyhound is a drink made from vodka and grapefruit juice.
"Waiting For Yesterday"--Okay, this movie was one of the awesomest I've seen in a while. Everyone lives backwards (dies, then grow young, then are born). Except one guy is bumped in the bathroom by a guy fleeing the authorities, and he suddenly starts living forward. The revolution is on, bitches!
"Dear Bill Gates"--An e-mail on video to Bill Gates, regarding Corbis--his underground archive of images, the largest such private archive in the world. Connections between Microsoft, archiving, images, and the fire still buring under Centralia, PA (see my review of "The Town That Was").
"Strip Show"--People make strange requests to an internet porn star. Things like make a banana smoothie, drink it, light your high school diploma on fire, buy fire insurance...we have great rates!
"Making the Balkans Erotic"--A short doc on the making of an art installation "Balkan Erotic Epic". Here's some interesting tidbits of Balkan culture and tradition: Men traditionally hump the ground to make it more fertile. During inclement weather, women will lift their skirts and expose themselves because Balkan gods are afraid of vaginas. Oh, the things I learn at film festivals.
"Nude Caboose"--Guy Maddin goes hi-tech in this cell phone video story of a conga line, chasing the tail, and butt-punching. I love Guy Maddin, can't wait for his "Brand on the Brain" later in the festival.

So after the pair of shorts programs, it was time for a documentary. Specifically, "All in This Tea" about famed local tea importer David Lee Hoffman. Hoffman is a big proponent of chinese teas (traditionally most teas in the U.S. are from India) and local organic farming. He's an adventurer and world traveller who travels to China, buys tea directly from the farmers (stuffing his nose into big bags of tea), and imports it to the US, bypassing (sort of, as much as he can politically) the Chinese factory tea production. He was the only foreigner invited to China's first conference on organic tea. Directors Les Blank (who travelled to China with him) and Gina Leibrecht have crafted an engaging movie about a Hoffman's boundless enthusiasm. And in the end, it's about as exciting as a documentary about tea can be. It made me want to have a good cup of tea. Here's a pic of (left to right) David Lee Hoffman, Gina Leibrecht, and Les Blank.
Oh yeah, and the movie also featured a cameo by Werner Herzog, the famed director and star of Les Blank's short movie "Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe" (to settle a bet with then-fledgling documentarian Errol Morris). But I digress....

Next up was a South African indie comedy "Bunny Chow". The day before they planned to start shooting their script about stand up comedians travelling to a gig at a rock festival, their producers pulled out the funding, so they shot the whole thing guerilla style--black and white, sneaking their cameras around the festival without permits. The name comes from a traditional snack treat--a loaf of bread hollowed out and filled with a spicy curry of veggies and meat (sounds freakin' delicious, I want one!) The dish is a metaphor for the mixing pot that is South Africa, particularly in the youth overcoming their history of Apartheid. Three young comedians are struggling both professionally and in their personal love lives. Kags is kind of the ringleader, a bit of a bully (verbal, not physical), and a womanizer. Joey is a goofy looking (i.e., has hair like mine) Muslim (but not really devout, although he gets pissed when his girlfriend feeds him pork). And Dave is the new guy in the group, funny in person but a disaster on stage. Though the story kind of meanders, the energy is always high, it's more about the wild characters than the narrative. And ultimately, it's about learning to be yourself. Pretty good. Here's a pic of director John Barker:

And finally, there was the Brazilian poor black youth drama, "The 12 Labors". The main character is Heracles, a young man who's been to juvenille prison, but is trying to turn his life around. But as his name and the title suggest, doing so in the slums of Brazil is a Herculean achievement. His cousin helps him get a job as one of São Paulo's many motorcycle delivery boys. It's a dangerous profession, mostly involving careening through the busy traffic at high speeds. And his twelve labors are more about intelligence and keeping his cool in the face of overt racism--things like having to climb 25 flights of stairs to make a delivery when the freight elevator is out and the security guard won't let him on the passenger elevator (simple solution, climb one flight and catch the elevator on the second floor). So many times he has the chance to lash out at the injustice of society, but it's his Herculean task to move beyond it and better himself. Very well done, once I finally understood it (it took me about 1/2 way through to "get it"). Here's a pic of director Ricardo Elias:

And that was Sunday at the festival. Two more movies tonight.

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Jason goes to SF International--day 3

I should start with a note about the new Kabuki theater. The longtime home of the festival used to be owned by AMC, but when they bought up the Metreon, anti-monopoly rules forced them to sell the Kabuki. And the buyer was Sundance, making it their first Sundance theater. They've remodeled all the auditoriums (except for the big screen #1) with stadium seating, and it still has that new theater smell. Nice. Anyway, although it's a bit far from home, and I'm typically only here for festivals, I'll be keeping an eye on how Sundance runs a theater. First thought, though, is stadium seating reduces the capacity, which might be okay normally (I don't know if it's usually full), but is a drawback during the festival.

Okay, on to the movies. First up was the challenging Portuguese movie "Colossal Youth". Pedro Costa's near-documentary on the slums of Lisbon. Shot with non-actors (and the third in a series of which I haven't seen the first two). The central character is "papa" Ventura, a resident of a nearly empty slum that's being torn down. He's being relocated to a nice, clean (sort of sterile) new apartment, but continues returning to his old slum, visiting with his "children" in both locations. It's a challenging film--2 1/2 hours with no real narrative. I found myself daydreaming on more than one occasion, but was quickly drawn back by his interesting compositions and use of light and shadows. It almost worked for me as a series of fascinating paintings (owing to his always static camera).

Then there was a distinct change of pace (for the better) with the samurai revenge comedy "Hana". Souza is a ronin (masterless samurai) in a time with no war, when samurai are generally worthless. However, he is on a revenge quest to kill the man who killed his father. Problem is, he's kind of an inept swordsman, better suited to teaching writing and abacus. Still, he finds his place in the country, meeting and befriending a nice widow and her eight year old son. So it kind of complicates things when the target of his revenge turns out to live in town. But, through a little cleverness, he manages to satisfy his revenge requirement and "make rice cakes out of shit"--which is the films central metaphor.

So after that, I had to run out of the credits to catch the Italian film "The Caiman". Both beginning and ending with a film-within-the-film, it's the comic-political story of Bruno, a film producer who's down on his luck. He hasn't made a film since his last action flop "Cataracts", which he made with his wife who now wants to separate. His Columbus epic is floundering, but his luck turns around when he's given a script by novice Teresa. The script is for "The Caiman", the story of a guy who gets a pile of money (billions of lira) literally dropped on him from the sky. Skimming through it, he sees it's a comic romp in which the lead starts a TV station, buys his own town, gets into politics, and gets into trouble when the authorities question where he got the money. But he doesn't read carefully enough to get that it's about Prime Minister Berlusconi. Suddenly he finds himself making the sort of lefty political film he's always avoided. He himself voted for Berlusconi, but the crew is dedicated and most would work for free. It's simultaneously a filmmaking satire and a political satire. And for me, as a novice in Italian politics (although I do know who Berlusconi is), the filmmaking part works best (not that I'm a filmmaker either, but I've met enough and seen enough movies about movies to know a bit). Still, even without knowing Italian politics, I found it hilarious.

And then, with barely a break, I saw "Jindabyne". This is actually being released by Sony Pictures Classics, so it's normally a film I'd avoid at a festival, but it worked best in my schedule. It's an Australian picture starring Gabriel Byrne and Laura Linney. They're a married couple with a young son in a small Australian town of Jindabyne. He owns a service station and is a hard-working man. His one big vacation of the year is a fishing trip. But this year, they find something unexpected--the body of an aborigine woman. However, since they don't know her, it's too late for her, and they have no cell phone reception, they decide to finish the weekend of fishing rather than hike back to the road and report it immediately. This turns out to be a bad decision, as all the hatred that should be aimed at the unknown killer is instead aimed at them, and the racist implications tear the town apart. I mentioned the "unknown" killer, but in fact he's introduced early to the audience and is there through the whole movie as an ominous presence. But there's really where this deviates sharply from a Hollywood flick. It's never about finding the bad guy and bringing him to justice. That's too simplistic--black and white. Instead it's about finding the good and bad in a good guy who did a bad thing and bringing the community to resolution. It's an excellent drama, full of complex characters and great acting..

And then it was time to drink some free Stella Artois. Years ago the midnight movies used to be sponsored by Guinness (and used to all be at 11:30 or later, but that's another rant), and old-timers like me remember those days fondly. Nothing against Stella Artois, it just seems that Guinness, as a very dark beer, is more appropriate for the late shows. Anyway, as sponsor Stella Artois gets to run their commercial (tagline: "perfection has its price") before the movie. Friday night I got the brilliant idea to punctuate Stella's ad by shouting out the Guiness "brilliant!" It was a huge comic hit, and produced a few echoes in the audience. So Saturday I repeated it, and still got a laugh and a heckler calling out "you said that last night!" It still warmed the cockles of my heart. And if there's one thing I love more than movies, it's warm heart cockles.


The late show last night was "Ghost Train", a j-horror flick about a haunted subway tunnel. It throws just about every j-horror trick (creepy artifacts, close-ups on eyes, deformed photographs, grey-skinned ghosts jumping out of the shadows) at you, and what it might lack in creativity, it makes up for in energy and humor. It starts with a little boy finding a lost subway pass, then shortly thereafter being taken from the train by a ghost. Then a little girl, Noriko, finds the same pass, turns it in, and shortly thereafter goes missing. So her smart but awkward big sister Nana goes searching for her, and with the help of her new friend (who used to shun her, but is now trapped by a demonic bracelet found on the train) and a disgraced train driver (forced into office work for seeing demons on the tracks) she uncovers a horrible secret past to the tunnel. But not before the ghosts get their fair share of scares (and kills). Well done, showing there's still a little life left in j-horror.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Jason goes to SF International Film Festival--day 2

Or day 1 for me, since I didn't shell out $50 for opening night. By the way, absolutely no one took me up on my offer/challenge to suggest what movies I should see. That's still available, I've only tentatively scheduled myself through Sunday.

Anyway, I saw two movies tonight. First up was "Falling", and I've already used my freedom to change my mind at the last minute. I was going to see "Unforseen", a documentary about the battle over a housing development. Then I re-read the description of "Falling" and saw the word "Altmanesque" which beat out the fact that it was a chick flick about a reunion of women who were high school friends. I was immediately pleased with my decision when one of them burst into uncontrollable laughter during their former teacher's funeral (it wasn't because of him, but over the children's choir's singing). So begins a day that begins with a funeral, proceeds to a wedding, and is full of drinking between and after (except for the pregnant one of the bunch, she's actually conscientious about avoiding booze). It's very funny, with some stabs at pathos, and oddly punctuated with very American music (oh yeah, it's an Austrian film).

Then I had quite a long break, almost an hour (I'm not sure yer, but it seems this year the festival is programmed to frustrate my attempts at seeing as many movies as possible. For example, if the "late" show were at midnight instead if 10:45, I could've fit another movie in.) Then I drank as much free Stella Artois beer as I could. Then I saw "Black Sheep". Gore, comedy, and sheep from the first country I think of for all three--New Zealand. Director Jonathan King owes a debt to Peter Jackson--not just for paving the way with "Bad Taste" and "Braindead", but for creating WETA Workshop which did the monster sheep effects. A story of monster zombie sheep, created by...ahem.. "unconventional" breeding methods. The half-sheep, half-human hybrids run amok, and wacky hijinx ensue. There's also some good fun poked at stupid organic farming hippies. Awesome!

And that was my first night of SFIFF. Tomorrow I plan on seeing: "Colossal Youth", "Hana", "The Caiman", "Cecile B. DeMille-American Epic" and "Ghost Train". But please, convince me to see your favorites instead. Or tell me what to see later in the week.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Jason watches "Zodiac"

I've been meaning to see it for a while, and just caught it before it left theaters for good. I saw it at the Cerrito Speakeasy, the sister theater of the Parkway. It was my first time at the theater, and they have a pretty nice setup, and of course beer and pizza (although I only had one beer, not a full pitcher like I had with "Grindhouse").

Anyway, as far as the movie, I was most interested in seeing it because it's directed by David Fincher. With a resume that includes "Alien 3" and "Fight Club", it's fair to say his career has had its ups and downs (although I actually have a soft spot for "Alien 3", in a nihilistic, fuck-you-world way, even more than "Fight Club"). But the real surprise is he hasn't made a movie in 5 years. "Panic Room" wasn't bad, it was just needlessly indulgent in places (what's with flying the camera through the handle of a coffee mug? What does that show other than David Fincher has a hard-on for visual tricks?). Well, in "Zodiac" Fincher plays everything pretty straight. Not many tricks other than one scene where Robert Graysmith (Jake Gylenhaal) hallucinates Zodiac's cipher symbols all over the newsroom. Even the violence, while there, is sedate in comparison to his earlier works. It's as if Fincher is making a concerted effort to just tell the story in as straightforward a manner as possible. The result is a perfectly good movie, particularly the stellar cast (Gylenhaal, Robert Downey Junior, Mark Rufallo, and even the supporting characters like Philip Baker Hall, Brian Cox, Anthony Edwards, Chloë Sevigny, etc.) It also has a flair for making the excruciating minutiae of police work and inter-jurisdictional squabbles interesting. Ultimately, it's hampered somewhat by the fact that it's officially an unsolved case and so there isn't a big resolution, although it does point to a likely suspect. And interestingly, 3 different actors play the Zodiac in different murder scenes, none of whom plays the main suspect, so trying to glimpse his face in the shadows will just frustrate you.

In the end, it plays everything so straight, and is so long (2 hours, 38 minutes) that it started to stretch my patience. It remained interesting the whole time, but in a way I kind of missed Fincher's earlier visual showmanship, even if it was kind of distracting in "Panic Room".

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Jason watches "Grindhouse"--again

At the Parkway, drinking beer and eating pizza, like God intended. Congratulations to "Grindhouse" on being the first movie I've watched twice this year.

In other news, I've heard that test screenings of a split-up "Grindhouse" completely bombed over the weekend. So it's staying on as one movie. Hooray! On the other hand, it's been a commercial disappointment. Booooo! But here's my thoughts, for what it's worth. There's no reason that should've cost $50M+. Don't get me wrong, I think it's brilliant and worth ever penny, and $50M is not much for a Hollywood movie. But they could've gone for even more of a low-budget gritty cheesiness (or cheesy grittiness) and brought it in under $10M, and that could've been even more in keeping with the grindhouse aesthetic. So for the sequels, don't even worry about being the #1 movie or getting it into 4,000 screens. Go for the cult appeal, and just go all-out, low-budget, sleazy insanity. Who cares if the herd doesn't like it, pander to the sickos like me!

Other thoughts on seeing the movie again: How did I forget to mention that Tom Savini tears it up in a brilliant role as the deputy in "Planet Terror"? I loved the Quentin Tarantino cameos in both movies, but it's weird that when he's on screen, it immediately becomes his movie. That's fine in "Death Proof", which is his movie, but it's kind of unsettling in "Planet Terror". Mainly because he feels like more of a Tarantino character than a Rodriguez character. Understandable, but I think Rodriguez let Tarantino be a little self-indulgent in his cameo (still, gotta love "rapist #1"). And finally, the Parkway had a genuine intermission between the movies, which was awesome (for people who had drunk lots of beer and really needed to pee). More kudos to the Parkway for totally getting it!

And finally, a guy at Sleazy Sundays suggested to me that in "Death Proof", the first half is a movie within a movie and the second half is real. That is, Kurt Russel is playing an actor playing a character named Stuntman Mike. The first half is the movie within the movie, then in the second half he goes a little nuts and believes himself to be that character, but totally fails at it, getting his ass kicked by a bunch of girls. Perhaps he believes his lines about the car being death proof and thinks he's invincible. It would explain why he suddenly becomes such a whiny little wimp after getting shot. But then again, getting shot would explain that, too. Ultimately, it's an interesting theory, and I can't reject it outright, but I don't really buy it. But come to think of it, does his scar disappear in the second half? I don't recall. Damn, now I'll have to see it a third time!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Jason watches the final Sleazy Sunday--"Gone to the Grindhouse"

Sigh, I wish every day could be a Sleazy Sunday!

Okay, first up was the original grindhouse exploitation trash classic, 1934's "Maniac" by Dwain Esper. And as an extra bonus, it was introduced by Dwain Esper's grandson Damin Esper. Here's a pic to prove it:
Okay, the movie itself borrows liberally (i.e., steals) from Frankenstein and from Edgar Allan Poe. Couched (barely) as an educational film about various stages of psychosis/dementia, it's the story of a mad scientist who has developed a way to bring the dead back to life by transplanting a beating heart he keeps in a jar. However, his assistant Buckley (who's really only good at impersonations) fails to find him an acceptable specimen. So the scientist comes up with a brilliant plan--order Buckley to shoot himself and then he'll bring him back to life. Unfortunately, Buckley doesn't like the plan, so instead he shoots the doctor and starts impersonating him (see, his skills come in handy). Then things get weird, with a cat-eyeball eating scene and some pre-Hays code boobies (sort of, apparently this was after the code went into effect, but before it was really enforced).

Next up was the utterly hilarious "Preacherman". Albert Viola plays (and is credited as) the titular lecherous preacherman Amos Huxley. After being caught with the sheriff's daughter, he's run out of town and beaten unconscious. He wakes up after being rescued by moonshiner Clyde and his beautiful and horny daughter Mary Lou. Wacky freakin' hijinx (often musical hijinx) ensue as the the preacherman spends time "ministering" to Mary Lou (in the guise of the angel Leroy) and running the moonshine operation with the stated aim to raise money to build a church. Freakin' hilarious! And I just hope someday to be able to use the line, "I'm going to close every hole you've got, and open up some new ones!"

And finally, it just got crazier with "The Black Gestapo". Watts. Mid-70's. The neighborhood is run by the mob (the least convincing mob ever, as the white muscle looks more like undercover cops than gangsters, but they are pretty freakin' cruel). The People's Army, under command of General Ahmed tries to defend the people and ease suffering by running a food store and detox clinic. But Colonel Kojah has more militant plans to defend their turf by confronting and killing the mobsters. He's successful, but then moves in on their gambling and prostitution business, being an even worse boss than the mob was. So General Ahmed has to take his army back. A ridiculously cheesy morality play about power corrupting, bursting into a cinematic orgy of black-on-black crime. Wow.

And that's Sleazy Sundays.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Jason watches "Hot Fuzz"

And it's hilarious. 'nuf said.

Okay, I'll say a little more. Not only do they do to action movies what they did to horror movies in "Shaun of the Dead", they also do a pretty good job of throwing in sly references to their first movie. That is, they simultaneously mock, pay homage to, and make a better movie than the majority of the genre. And they do a great job of mocking small town values. Or rather, instead of the values themselves, they mock the obsession with small town values. Excellent, brilliant, and deserves an even higher score than their 88% fresh rating on rottentomatoes.

Oh yeah, and even with just the little teaser, I can't wait to see Simon Pegg in "Run, Fatboy, Run" this fall.

Okay, that's it.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Jason goes to the Santa Cruz Film Festival to see "The Tripper"

Last night was opening night of the Santa Cruz Film Festival. I haven't been back in a few years (it's a ways away, and during the middle of film festival season around here), but I couldn't pass this up. David Arquette's directorial debut, starring Jason Mewes and Paul Reubens, about a psychotic Ronald Reagan killing hippies. Yeah!

So I've written before about how nowadays horror movies are political. In "The Hills Have Eyes II" that became an obligatory, pointless cliche, much as the 70's/80's morality horror movies became cliche enough to be mocked in "Scream", which launched the career of David Arquette, thus completing the circle. Well, with "The Tripper" horror becomes political comedy, but while "The Hills Have Eyes II" sucked, "The Tripper" was pretty fuckin' awesome! It starts with a nod to 70's/80's morality horror, tipping the survivor early as the one girl who doesn't want to get high. However, everybody ends up getting high anyway (including the cops), rendering the morality cliche obsolete. Instead, it's replaced with politics. A group of neo-hippies (e.g., drug-cramming 'tards) gather for a hippie free love music in Humboldt County (organized by money-grubber Paul Reubens, who's entire performance was based on finding new and hilarious ways to say "Fuck You!") Well, the hippie festival is attacked by a madman dressed in a Ronald Reagan mask. Awesome, just awesome.

So in the Q&A afterwards, David announced that if the film did well (it opens today in 50 theaters across the nation, check if it's playing near you), he has an idea for a sequel based on Burning Man called "The Tripper 2: the Burning Bush". This would be awesome, because as a Burner of 10+ years I've always thought a) it's odd that there's never been a murder at Burning Man, because there are plenty of people who deserve to die for crappy poetry alone, and b) I've never seen a Burning Man documentary I really like, and I think the best Burning Man movie would be fiction, not documentary. So please see this movie, so this goofball semi-genius can make his sequel!

Here's a pic of David Arquette introducing the movie, surrounded by his cast and the press.

And there behind him was Paul Reubens and Thomas Jane (who played the local sheriff in the movie, and introduced it with his line from the movie "If you don't leave, you will die!")
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Jason watches "Disappearances"

So one of the perks of joining the various membership schemes of various festivals (in this case, specifically the Indiefest Membership Scheme) is I frequently get invited to various special screenings, in this case a press screening of the upcoming independent film "Disappearances". Usually these are 10-10:30 am during the week, so I can't go because I'm at work. But I happen to briefly be on the midnight shift at work, so after a full day night of playing with radioactive material, I dragged myself up to the city to check out this Kris Kristofferson vehicle.

Kris stars as Quebec Bill Bonhomme, a schemer and ex-whiskey runner in Vermont during prohibition. Kris is a force on the screen, to the point where his mostly quiet performance hints of an extremely wild side underneath. Same goes for the real soul of the movie, his son Wild Bill (Charlie McDermott). As the movie opens, Wild Bill's grandmother Cordelia (Geneviève Bujold) is teaching him a school lesson about "Paradise Lost" (setting up a disinheritance theme), while Quebec Bill is busy setting fire to their barn while trying to seed the clouds and make rain. Homeless, and without hay to feed their animals (including an incongruous peacock), they go about trying to beg, borrow, or steal, to no luck. So finally Quebec Bill makes the unpopular decision to go on a whiskey run (worth $1,000) with his brother in-law Henry (Gary Farmer) and his farmhand/ex-con Rat (William Sanderson). And, he makes the additional unpopular decision to bring his son along to teach him the business. Along the way, they learn that the whiskey they'll be running is stolen, and the new force in the whiskey business, Carcajou (Lothaire Bluteau) is hot on their trail. However, it's always a little off-balance for an action caper movie, and it quickly becomes apparent that it's more of a philosophical movie. Wild Bill has hallucinations, mostly of Cordelia giving him advice. Carcajou turns out to be unkillable, and eventually even Quebec Bill starts having hallucinations. It quickly becomes apparent this is more a coming-of-age philosophical story about Wild Bill, his roots, disinheritance, and killing your father in order to become your own man (metaphorically, at least).

The acting is great (and seriously, I've only barely touched on the cast, Luis Guzman shows up as a drunken priest, and much more), and the northeast scenery is great. The philosophy is a little heavy-handed, not so much in telling you what to think, but in telling you that you must think about it (probably more than is necessary). But even though I knew how the philosophical points will play out, the journey there was fascinating.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Jason watches "Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation"

And I don't need to write much about this. It's exactly what it sounds like, and lots of fun. I've seen it a few times before, but not every year. This year certainly delivers, and included "Chirpy", the birdy/horse sex film I saw at Indiefest a few years back. Awesome.

Jason previews upcoming events--Santa Cruz and San Francisco Film Festivals

So I said I'd try to publicize upcoming events more. Well, starting this Thursday we have the Santa Cruz Film Festival. It's relatively new, and I haven't been to it in a couple of years, but I hope to at least make it to the opening night screening of David Arquette's "The Tripper" (horror movie, villain wears a Ronald Reagan mask, shot in Santa Cruz--awesome!) Then possibly some more of it this weekend, depending on how busy I am.

Then just a week later the big 50th anniversary of the San Francisco International Film Festival. I am so not ready at all! I have decided, for their big 50th anniversary (and because I didn't plan ahead) to splurge and get the CineVisa pass to see everything. There's no way to see enough to make it worth the $650, but it's worth it to have the freedom to see whatever I want/can see.

Now here's the deal. I haven't planned ahead. I know I'll see the Friday and Saturday night late shows. And of the films, I've already seen "Slumming" and "Third Monday in October" at Cinequest. But other than that, this is your chance to convince me what else I should see. Partly I'm asking for help, partly this is your chance to control my schedule (although I retain ultimate veto power).

So check out the schedule here. Leave a comment on this post telling me what shows I should see (I've enabled anonymous posting, but might disable it if I get too much spam). Ideally, schedule an entire day for me! General guidelines--I assume I'll be working during the day (I'll let you know if that changes) and I work in the South Bay, so getting anywhere in SF or Berkeley before 5 pm is tough (when it comes down to Palo Alto, that's a little easier). I want to see the late shows on Friday and Saturday, and want to have time to have a few (okay, many) free beers before the show (thank you, Stella Artois!) So a schedule that doesn't put me at the Kabuki at least 20-30 minutes before that night's late show is no good. Also, I generally prefer taking public transit, which means it would take me longer to get between venues. Generally, it's more efficient if I stick to one venue at a time (i.e., all day at the Kabuki, or Castro, or PFA, with very little moving between venues). Other than that, I'm up for anything. Seriously, I'd really appreciate it. Now I'll get to see if I really have dedicated readers.

Oh, and a side note, the CineVisa doesn't cover opening and closing night, so I'll be skipping those. They're generally movies that will get at least some limited release anyway, and I don't need to spend a lot of extra money just to see the stars.

Jason says WADRFT to splitting up "Grindhouse"

For those confused by that title (I'm assuming that includes everyone), I'm attempting to coin my own internet acronym. It stands for "With All Due Respect, Fuck That!" Hopefully I'll make it a recurring feature of this blog. Actually, come to think of that, I'll using it when I'm annoyed, so hopefully I won't use it that often. But I digress.

Okay, this has been reported many places, but here's a quick recap. "Grindhouse" kinda tanked at the box office. It was always going to be released in Europe as two movies, not scratched up, without the "missing reels" gag. Fine, Europe never had a tradition of grindhouse theaters, so it makes more sense to them that way. Now there are reports that the Weinstein company will pull it from theaters and re-release it here in the European version (Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof" first, followed months later by Robert Rodriguez's "Planet Terror"). Basically, instead of recreating the grindhouse experience (which is the whole freakin' point of the movie!), they're creating the experience of watching cheesy grindhouse movies in a sterile cineplex format. Furthermore (the rumors continue), the original double feature will never be released again, in theaters or DVD. So see it now (in the next two weeks), because this will be your only chance to see it the right way. Better yet, starting Friday it plays at the Parkway Theater in Oakland, so see it while drinking beer and eating pizza.

Okay, calming down a bit. It doesn't bug me that they'd release it as two movies, it bugs me that they'd remove every trace that it was once a single double feature (I know no news on what they'll do with the fake trailers between the movies). Hell, I was looking forward to seeing the "restored" versions on a special-edition DVD--alongside the original version (In fact, that's become part of grindhouse nostalgia--finally seeing cleaned up DVD versions of films you first saw all scratched up). Of course, I'm also still waiting for the single movie version of "Kill Bill" on DVD, so we'll see.

Look, I can respect the business side of this, and I understand the exhibitors who didn't like that they couldn't fit as many screenings in a day when it's 3+ hours long. And I understand that some people were confused and walked out after the first movie, and were given refunds (On a side note, I hate getting into bicoastal elitism, but rumor has it that it played well on the coasts but the Midwest audiences were confused). But destroying the original intent is ridiculous. Here's a suggestion: give the audiences a choice. Keep the double feature version out there, but include individual, "restored" versions. You could charge your regular $10 for the single version, or $15 for the double feature. Yeah, theater-hopping could be a problem--someone buys a ticket for a single show and sneaks into the double feature. But that's always a problem anyway. Theaters could post an extra ticket checker, or decide not to play it at all, or decide to charge regular price anyway. Better yet, how about you only play the double feature at single-screen theaters (we still have a few of those left in this country).

All I'm saying is they have a great movie here, something different and entertaining. They have many things they can do with it, and they've already widely released a version that I love. Do what you want with it to make as much money as you can, but as for taking away the version I love? WADRFT!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Jason watches Sleazy Sundays--April 15: Nature Revolts

Hey, this is the first Sleazy Sunday that wasn't some sort of holiday...unless you count the date when you'd normally have to file taxes if it weren't a Sunday. Okay, I got nuthin', on to the movies.

First up was "Squirm", the horrifying tale of killer worms. I would think that electrocuting worms would just kill them. Turns out it just pisses them off! (shows what a lousy physicist I am). And you might think a creeping mass of killer worms is laughable, but who's laughing when they burrow into a guy's face? I'll tell you who--me! Seriously, it was hilarious, and surprisingly gruesome. And giant piles of worms can be...well, at least really gross, if not quite terrifying. So let that be a lesson to you--don't leave a live power line dangling in worm-filled ground for days.

Next up was "Kingdom of the Spiders". As the title suggests, a town is overrun with killer spiders. Veterinarian Rack Hansen investigates a disease plaguing the local cattle. When the results come back from the lab at Arizona State, they come with beautiful scientist Diane Ashley (Tiffany Bolling) who explains that the cattle died from massive amount of spider venom! Then the rancher Walter Colby (Woody Strode) remembers seeing a giant spider mound. So they got some eradicating to do! Oh, and did I mention that Rack Hansen is played by William effin' Shatner! (that one's for you, dad!)

And finally, there was "Son of Blob" (aka "Beware! The Blob"). Larry Hagman apparently took massive amount of drugs and decided to direct a sequel to the blob. What really makes this movie a mind-fuck is the incredible number of bizarre side stories that never really get resolved, such as the old, fat Turkish guy who escapes from the blob while taking a bath, and runs down the street naked (Tiger Joe Marsh--who incidentally was the original Mr. Clean--is credited as "Naked Turk"). I can't describe it all, but I'll focus on just one little side story. Dick Van Patten shows up as a scoutmaster leading a group of boys on a camping trip. Thing is, if you look closely all the boys have different troop numbers on their uniforms, and even different locations listed (although as far as I can tell, all from southern California). This puzzled me for a moment, until I came to the conclusion that there's an untold story there. Dick Van Patten isn't a scoutmaster leading a troop on a hike. He's a creepy old man who's been kidnapping boy scouts and forces them to follow him everywhere. I don't know the full story, but I'm sure there's a spin-off potential there.

And that's that.

Jason watches "300"

Yeah, I know I should've watched this long ago. I've been putting it off because A) I wanted to see it in IMAX, which meant forgoing my local cineplex and going up to the city to see it, and B) The Minister of Common Sense has called it the "worst movie [he's] seen in the last 5 years". Actually, I've been holding off reading more than the title of his review, to minimize his influence on my opinion. I've also talked to plenty of people who thought it was awesome. Rotten Tomatoes has it as a barely fresh 61% rating.

Okay, so there's some good and some bad. I'll start with the good. It looks good, for the most part. In fact, probably about 80-90% of the frames could be extracted and make a pretty impressive painting in it's own right. I can't take anything away from the style. In fact, in many respects it can be seen as a triumph of style over substance. And I don't even mean that sarcastically (okay, maybe a little).

However, the problem with calculating every frame to be as impressive as possible is that eventually nothing stands out. I'd charitably say that this movie skirts that line. When marital pillow-talk is just as awe-inspiring as battle, where's the sense of perspective? Furthermore, it seems an odd choice to slow down scenes almost to the point of stopping them. Zack Snyder is showing his commercial/music video roots and some impressive visual chops there, but that doesn't necessarily translate well to 2 hours. Ultimately, why take cinema, an inherently kinetic media, and slow it down to static shots which, through their sense of tension, evoke motion? It almost seems as if the visual style would work better as a series of static shots. Perhaps some way to "novelize" the movie graphically? Okay, there I am being sarcastic, but my point is why switch media--in this case from graphic novel to film--and not take better advantage of the new medium? In the case of graphic novel to film, it's even a pretty natural translation, as a graphic novel can be treated as an elaborately crafted storyboard. But in this case, it seems Mr. Snyder used the new media to make the graphic novel bigger...and not much else.

Okay, I've already sort of drifted over to the bad points. Here's more: Many CGI shots were just awful. Okay, it certainly put "impressive" over realistic, and that was part of the style that I can't fault. But beasts should still move somewhat naturally and those elephants and the battle rhino just sucked.

The voice-over was annoying, and the dialogue even more so. And the modern colloquialisms were the worst ("We're in for one wild night!"). And the inconsistent references to God or the gods (are they polytheistic or not?) is laughable. The plot need not be mentioned, and Xerxes was more comical than frightening.

But ultimately, I was left with one question that, depending on the answer, could completely redeem this movie and make me hail it as brilliant: Is this satire? Or, to put it another way, am I really supposed to root for Sparta?

In the opening scene, we're introduced to a culture that kills its newborns if they're small, sickly, or malformed. Boys are taught to fight as soon as they can walk, and spend all their short life hoping for a glorious death in battle. And we're supposed to root for them because the main character, King Leonidas, says they're free? This bloodthirsty proudly proclaimed madman king murders a messenger, inviting war upon his people, then goes out on an illegal suicide mission to fight the war with only 300 soldiers. Meanwhile, his wife whores herself out to convince the council to send reinforcements. You can argue she had no choice, and the cruel, traitorous councilman was far worse, but she is still no paragon of virtue. On the other side, Xerxes is certainly power-mad, wants to rule the world, and believes himself to be a god. But, beyond that, he claims (and all evidence suggests) to be a benevolent, kind, generous ruler. Pledge loyalty to Xerxes, and he'll make your life comfortable. Pledge loyalty to Leonidas, and he'll lead you into a glorious death in battle. Who would you rather follow? It's fair to answer you'd rather follow Leonidas and fight for your freedom rather than be a slave to Xerxes, but again, the only reason this movie gives to believe that the Spartans are free is that their King (their mad King) says so!

And then the final moral of the movie. It's glorious to die in battle killing as many enemies as you can, because your example will inspire others until you have an army large enough to defeat your enemy. I hate to bring contemporary politics into this, but since we're in a war on terror in which suicide bombing is the terrorists' primary weapon, is this a moral we want to promote? To put it another way, it's easy to draw parallels between Persia in the movie and the U.S. today, so is this movie anti-American? Granted, I have no reason to believe that connection is intended. And knowing that Persia is modern day Iran, this connection tickles my sense of irony. Even more so, the complaints that it's racist and homophobic become kind of funny if you start to see it as anti-American propaganda instead.

So, in the final analysis, this movie could be a brilliant piece of misunderstood subversive art if it's intended to make you root for the wrong side (or to ignore the fact that . However, I find it hard to give it the benefit of the doubt on this. At most, I can give it credit for being so philosophically blank that you can hang whatever beliefs you want on it.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Jason watches "Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters"

Shut up, it was playing right after "The Hills Have Eyes 2" (shut up again!)

It's been a while since I've seen the show, which I used to enjoy as an occasional guilty pleasure. In fact, it's crude animation and goes-anywhere non-sequiturs were often quite brilliant, if somewhat taxing. From the pre-credit snack-bar sequence, this movie has the non-sequiturs flowing from a fire hose. And yeah, I busted up laughing on more than one occasion. But honestly, I've never been high enough to be able to enjoy ATHF's humor for a whole 90 minutes. There is brilliance there, but I'd actually recommend this on DVD, where you can pause every 20 minutes get your brain back. And honestly, breaking it up into 4-5 nights of viewing wouldn't ruin anything--it's so nonsensical and random that you could enter the movie at any point and enjoy it exactly the same (sort of like porn for your funny bone).

Jason watches "The Hills Have Eyes 2"

Yeah, I know it's supposed to suck. It's a little better than it's 13% tomatometer score, but not much. But I'm a sucker for a horror movie, and was surprised that this was still in theaters, so I took a chance.

I have a theory about the progression of American horror movies as it relates to society. In the 70's/80's, horror was about morality. You can't find a harsher indictment of drug/alcohol abuse and premarital teen sex than the "Friday the 13th" movies. In the 90's, horror became comedy, best exemplified by the "Scream" movies. We were no longer afraid (the cold war was over and we won), and we had more relaxed attitudes about morality (thank you Clinton) and so we laughed at what used to scare us. Then in the 00's, particularly post 9/11, we're scared again, and horror is serious again. Horror in this decade can be characterized by extraordinarily graphic genre exercises (the "Saw" movies, which have an ostensible philosophy about "those who don't appreciate life don't deserve it", but it's so laughable that I don't even think the filmmakers even tried to believe it until the third movie), and by the fact that horror is political, best exemplified by "Hostel"--a movie that's simultaneously about the fear of Americans (at least the fear of the world that America has created) and the fear of being American. Other examples would be "Land of the Dead", which is an allegory about gated communities, and the 2006 remake of "The Hills Have Eyes", in which the lesson (helpfully doled up by French director Alexandre Aja) is that liberals need to grow some freakin' balls (nice scene in that movie when the liberal kid stabs a mutant through the head with an American flag).

Well, "The Hills Have Eyes 2" certainly keeps up the gruesome genre exercise part of the equation, as completely interchangeable mutants (except for the token "good" one) torture, kill, and impregnate a team of nearly interchangeable National Guard rookies (introduced as a team of complete fuck-ups). And as for the politics, it does break new ground by acknowledging the formula without actually having anything political to say. Just like in a morality horror tale, you know the square girl who won't smoke pot or put out will be the survivor (screw you, "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" remake), now the one guardsman who opposes the war will be the survivor. And I don't consider that a spoiler to give away the ending of a movie this predictable. Problem is, it doesn't have anything political beyond 'liberal survives for no good reason'. I suppose this was bound to happen, but it's still disappointing.

By the way, since I mentioned "Hostel" earlier (and I'm so psyched up for "Hostel 2" this summer), I have to say that one of the things I really loved about "Hostel" is that it sets up the morality equation of who's the good guy who will survive, and then purposely confounds that expectation. When you see something like that, you know the movie was directed by a madman and anything can happen. Good on you, Eli Roth!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Jason has some comments about censorship

Okay, censorship questions have been in the news as everyone freaks out over Don Imus. Yes, his "nappy headed hos" comment was offensive, racist, and dumb--not even Imus is disagreeing with that. Yes, he's built a career and been very successful with that shtick. And yes, rappers use that sort of language all the time. I don't really care what happens to him (although I suspect he'll be hired somewhere--possibly satellite radio--pretty quickly). I understand those who think he shouldn't be fired, and I understand those who think he should have been fired long ago. Whatever.

What I do want to talk about is something I actually watch--"Futurama" on Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim". A couple of nights ago, both episodes featured Professor Farnsworth saying the phrase, "sweet zombie Jesus!" Except both times, it was edited into "sweet zombie [silence]". WTF!? People, I've always thought society is too sensitive, but now in less than 8 years we've become so thin-skinned that something that used to be acceptable on network TV (Fox, specifically), is now too offensive to be said on cable! With all due respect, FUCK THAT! Fuck that over and over again, in whatever hole you can find/make, with all sorts of foreign objects, until it fucking bleeds to death!

Seriously, this isn't so much a matter of the specifics of this edit. I just hear and think about censorship and societal norms so much, and I don't have much of a sense of whether our skin has gotten thinner or thicker. Sometimes I think we're allowed to speak more openly now about some subjects, and sometimes I think just the opposite. I certainly don't think this one incident is conclusive, but it's interesting to see such a specific, clear cut example on the thin-skinned side.

end rant.

Jason tries out Film Movement

So after Cinequest, the one movie I most regretted missing was "The Bothersome Man". So searching around a bit I found it available on a website called Film Movement. In short, it's a DVD-of-the-month club, but the hook is that all their DVD's are special early releases of films that have been popular and/or won awards at various international film festivals.

Now, normally I don't review stuff I watch on DVD (mainly because the experience is so inferior to the theatrical experience that I don't think it's fair), but this is a pretty intriguing idea. So I got a one-year subscription, and I'll occasionally write about their selections. Mainly, I want to check out their taste and sensibilities. Specifically, two questions I'll try to answer by the end of the year:

1. Do I do a better job by seeing hundreds of movies a year? I.e., how does their selection stack up against my favorites of the year?
2. Would I recommend it to other people? In particular, I live in the S.F. Bay Area, where we're flooded with film festivals, but would I recommend this to people who can't go to a film festival every weekend? Or, to put it a third way, is this a good film festival substitute for people who have no film festival (or maybe just one a year) near them?

Well, I actually did that a while ago. I got my first DVDs already and have finally watched them. Each DVD comes with a feature and a short.

The first shipment came with a gift bonus DVD of "The Rage in Placid Lake" with the short film "At Dawning". The short is a British film about a woman sneaking out of an apartment after a one night stand, only to be interrupted by a suicidal guy who jumped out of the apartment above and got stuck in the tree. In other words, wacky hijinx. Then the feature, "Rage in Placid Lake" is an eccentric Australian comedy about trying to fit in. Placid Lake (a guy, not a place) is cursed with airhead hippy parents who send him to his first day of school in a dress to challenge gender stereotypes. Of course, he doesn't make friends easily, but does meet a nice nerdy girl who eats crayons. Sexy, sexy stuff--except their relationship remains platonic even through graduation. At graduation a stunt involving his student film he "outs" his biggest bully, and that of course ends with him breaking every bone in his body. Out of his casts much later, Placid decides to become normal. Problem (and the best overarching joke in the movie) is, everyone is really crazy, especially the normals. In the end, you can't be everything to everyone, the best you can do is learn to be yourself. Pretty cool, and film movement is off to a great start.

Then there's "The Bothersome Man", the whole reason I started this. To sum it up in 4 words, I'd call it surreal, dark, funny, and Norwegian. It starts with the main character, Andreas, committing suicide by jumping off a subway platform. Then it goes back to his arrival in town, and spends 50 minutes of awkward superficial conversation (and a discovery that getting out of town is impossible) getting him back to that subway platform, heartbroken. Then it gets really weird, as he survives, rides go-karts, and finds a crack in his neighbor's wall from which music comes out. Pretty cool. This is also a perfect example of a movie that I'd rather see in the theater. Most people think the big explosions and special effects are the reasons some movies are better on the big screen. For me, the theater is more about lack of distractions. In a theater, there's nothing but the movie. In my living room, I'm always tempted to pause, go get a sandwich or a beer, or start a load of laundry or anything. So for me, the movies that must be seen on the big screen are the ones that demand you pay attention. And "The Bothersome Man", I had to watch twice on DVD before I got it. On the big screen, I'm sure I would've gotten it the first time.

Okay, that's it for now. The next movie, "Mother of Mine" arrived today, but I haven't watched it yet.

Jason watches "The Hoax"

And it's pretty good. Maybe not quite as good as its 86% tomatometer score would suggest, but pretty good. The acting was solid, especially Gere and Molina. It's, of course, the true story of Clifford Irving duping McGraw-Hill into publishing his completely fake autobiography of Howard Hughes. And the more outrageous elements (like Watergate being a result of Nixon's paranoia about what might be in the book) can be at times grating and at times hilarious. The whole movie is a question of reliable narration, and it could be viewed completely straightforward but for a few scenes. In the end, I decided it's in fact more enjoyable if you believe it's more (intentional) lies than truth, and at that point it'd be interesting to go back and watch it from the beginning believing everything is a lie. But at that point, I can't help but feel a little cheated.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Jason Watches Sleazy Sundays--April 8: Infernal BEaster

That's right, I spent Easter evening watching Satan-worshipping movies. I'm so going to hell. So before I burn in agony, let's review the ecstasy:

First up was the ultra-rare British occult flick, "Crimson Cult". Starring Christopher Lee (which filled me with thanks that he's still alive) and Boris Karloff (which filled me with regret that he's not anymore). Robert Manning (Mark Eden) is an antiques dealer whose brother is missing. His last correspondence leads him to the remote country manor belonging to Morley (Christopher Lee). While inviting (especially Morley's niece Eve, played by Virginia Wetherell), the Morley family is obviously hiding something. It probably has something to do with the old witch Lavinia Morley (Barbara Steele). And, yup, satanic hijinx ensue. Karloff enters as the creepy, wheelchair-bound Professor John Marshe, an expert on local history and particularly the trial of Lavinia. In fact, he remembers when the Manning family lived in town.

Next up the occult continued with "The Dunwich Horror", based on an H. P. Lovecraft story and starring Sandra Dee and Dean Stockwell. Classic traditional Lovecraft, with Miskatonic University, the Necronomicon, and the Old Ones. Stockwell plays Wilbur Whateley, who poses as a scholar wanting to study the Necronomicon. In reality, he just wants it to open a portal to allow the Old Ones (in short, gods from another world) into this world. He also needs Nancy Wagner (Sandra Dee) as a sacrifice. Specifically, as a virgin sacrifice, although she's 28 at the time. Riiiiight.... At least the "special effects" (POV shot of the monster seeing in photo-negative) are spectacular!

Okay, and finally the weird-as-hell treat, "Werewolves on Wheels". A gang of bikers raises hell. Or rather, hell comes up to meet them after they mess with the wrong monastery. Turns out, it's a satanic monastery. Soon weird things are happening. Weirder than just the standard nights of drunkenness, drug use, and sex. In the morning, people are dead. Then after a cursory funeral ("he was a bastard!"), they move on. That is, until the nightly attacks become too much, and they return to the monastery to put an end to the curse. Unfortunately, their leader morphs before they get too far. And then the bike chase begins!

And that was how I spend Sunday. Sorry for the somewhat cursory post. Obviously, I'm behind in my writing.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Jason watches "Grindhouse"

With his soon-to-be-brother-in-law Jon (aka baceman007, aka The Minister of Common Sense) and a couple of his friends from the Apple Store training class.

It was pretty freakin' awesome. Can't wait for the DVD (hoping for the original and a "remastered" version of both films on DVD). Can't wait for sequels (pleeeeze! Any of the movies from the fake trailers would be awesome, but especially Eli Roth's "Thanksgiving").

Okay, you can read plenty about it elsewhere, so my random comments. General consensus is Robert Rodriguez's "Planet Terror" is the better movie, and it's as hard to argue that as it is to argue with Rose McGowan's rifle leg. However, I believe Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof" is more akin to the style/quality of true 70's grindhouse films (at least the ones I've seen). That it never sets up a motivation for Kurt Russel's Stuntman Mike is part of the sleazy charm. He's just a fun-lovin' scumbag.

By the way, this might just be Kurt Russel's best non-John Carpenter work yet. At least his most fun.

Oh, and as far as it recapturing 70's grindhouse style, it was mostly successful. In fact, it was so successful for most of it that cell phones and Osama Bin Laden references were weirdly out of place. It seemed a very deliberate choice, but still one I'd question. Oh yeah, and speaking of Bin Laden references, Bruce Willis was awesome.

I love the fact that they used Quentin Tarantino's likeness to actually make a rapist #1 action figure. They've been raffling these off at Sleazy Sundays, but I've yet to win one.

The missing reels effect (surprisingly) worked. In fact, in many ways it cut out some clutter in the movie. Still, I'm hoping the DVD release will "restore" them. As far as the actual effect, there's some controversy over the reality behind them. IMDb's trivia for the movie claimed that while frames would go missing, entire reels never disappeared. Other rumors have it that horny young projectionists would steal the sex scenes before sending the print over to the next theater. It seems to me that it would be too easy to get caught, and probably not worth it. Finally, I do remember an interview (although I forget where) with Herschell Gordon Lewis, the inventor of cinematic gore, where he claimed that one of his early films played for months at a theater before the manager called him and asked him where the final reel was. So in my estimation, it's probably a little more urban legend than fact. It's possible that it has happened, but probably wasn't widespread and there aren't any documented cases I know of. More to the point, who cares?

And finally, it was freakin' awesome to see Zoë Bell in a starring role. For those who've seen the documentary "Double Dare", you'd know she was Lucy Lawless's stunt double on "Xena", who then moved to America, befriended Jeannie Epper (Lynda Carter's double on "Wonder Woman", and still a working stuntwoman/stunt coordinator) and became Uma Thurman's double in "Kill Bill" (Jeannie Epper, by the way, has a cameo in "Kill Bill: Volume 2" as the preacher's wife). Anyway, "Double Dare" played at the SF International Film Festival a couple of year's back, and Zoë Bell was there (I sorta got to meet here. I got to be in a crowd of fans hanging around her for a few minutes after the movie). Anyway, my point is Zoë Bell is cool, I loved having her as a main character, playing herself! And having seen "Double Dare", I get little inside jokes like her nickname really is "The Cat" for her ability to fall without hurting herself.

Oh, and finally, "Death Proof" heavily referenced "Vanishing Point", which I've actually never seen but is Jon's favorite car chase movie. So it's on my Netflix queue now, but the more interesting thing is someone there had more movie geek experience than I do--no fair!

That is all.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Jason watches "The Lookout"

A great movie, fully deserving its 87% tomatometer score. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has risen waaay above his days on "Third Rock From the Sun" (see also, his work in "Brick"). Jeff Daniels, with this and "The Squid and the Whale" a year and a half ago is doing some of the finest work of his career. And writer Scott Frank shows talent in his first try in the director's chair.

A few notes, I've heard some comparisons between this and "Memento", just because the hero has short term memory problem (in this case, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character, Chris Pratt, is in a car accident in the beginning, haunting him not just with memory problems, but guilt over killing two friends and crippling his girlfriend. He's then lured into a plot to rob the small rural bank where he works as a night janitor). I think such comparisons are superficial--"Memento" is a very formal, structured movie while this is much more free.

The last comment is, I'm glad I waited a day to write this up, because ironically it's a movie that works better the more you remember it. At the time watching it, I didn't know what to make of everything (although it was still engaging enough). But by employing Chris's strategy of starting at the end and working back, it's much more rewarding in my memory. Pretty cool.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Jason watches "Black Snake Moan"

Just barely caught that before it left theaters around here.

I'd put it a little higher than the 66% score on rottentomatoes. The premise is a little out there, but the performances are great, and Craig Brewer follows up "Hustle & Flow" with more proof that he's one of the most talented directors when it comes to flawed but sympathetic characters, local Southern storytelling, and awesome soundtracks (this time replacing the hip-hop of "Hustle & Flow" with old school southern blues). He's also developed a very distinctive and compelling voice to his movies that could possibly best be described as "Modern Southern Gothic" (maybe "modern" is the wrong word, but some sort of modified southern gothic), but until that catches on I'll just call it "Craig Brewer-esque".

Also, Christina Ricci has nice tits.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Jason watches "Sleazy Sundays"--April 1, Other Worlds

So I capped off Sunday night in style with a little Sleazy Sundays. The theme for this April Fool's day was "Other Worlds." I.e., cheesy low-budget sci-fi.

First they started it off with a raffle, where I won tickets to "Grindhouse" at the Bridge theater. Only problem, the passes aren't redeemable until after opening weekend, and of course I want to go to the big opening weekend party. So I guess I'll just have to bite the bullet and see "Grindhouse" twice. Or, if it sucks (which I doubt), I'll be giving away two free tickets to "Grindhouse" at the Bridge.

Okay, on to the movies. First up was "War of the Robots" a genre-bending surrealist masterpiece, effortlessly scif-fi, action, socio-political allegory, romance, and just a dash of comedy in a story with more plot twists than your average spy thriller. Ostensibly a story of a scientist kidnapped by aliens and the crew sent to rescue him (and his beautiful assistant), it's really fundamentally about the confusion inherent in the human condition and a cautionary tale about the desire for immortality. Really, it's the details that make this movie work so well. For example, you wouldn't expect in the distant future that a Texan accent would sound the same as it does today. A realistic Texan accent would destroy the verisimilitude, so the actor cleverly plays it as a mix of British/gay (I can never tell the difference) and Texan. Brilliant!

Well, I had very little time to recover from the overwhelming brilliance of "War of the Robots" before they started the even more brilliant "Planet of the Vampires", from Italian auteur Mario Bava. I've seen a number of his horror films before, but never any of his rare forays into sci-fi, and now I'm kicking myself for not seeing it sooner (on the other hand, seeing it on the big screen with an enthusiastic audience is definitely the right way to go). Barry Sullivan captains the Galliot onto the mysterious (and high gravity) planet Aura, in search of their sister ship Argos. As soon as he lands, the crew goes berserk and tries to kill each other. A good beating snaps them out of it, and they find the Argos--but the crew has gone berserk and killed each other (and destroyed their meteor deflector that keeps them from being destroyed by stray rocks in space). They bury the crew, only for them to rise from the dead and take over the Galliot. Bava is a master of horror, and the original Italian title translates to "Terror in Space", which is more appropriate as there aren't any real vampires. Instead, it's more like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (invoking much the same sense of who-can-you-trust paranoia) with some great proto-"Alien" atmospheric set design.

And finally, after two masterpieces, I didn't think it could get any better. But I was wrong, "Starcrash" is the brilliantest of them all! Wrongly derided in its time as a "Star Wars" rip-off, it's more appropriately seen as fulfilling the possibilities that "Star Wars" only hinted at (and besides, "Star Wars" is just a rip-off of Kurosawa's "The Hidden Fortress", but I digress...). The thrills are practically non-stop as Akton and Stella Star (Caroline Munroe) are two smugglers who come across a ship housing a sole survivor of a mission to discover evil Count Zarth Arn's doomsday weapon. Being the best navigator and pilot in the Galaxy, they're summoned by the Emperor (Christopher Plummer) to locate the weapon and--on a personal note--his only son Simon, missing in the search for the weapon. Their mission, aided by police chief Thor and robot Elle (who speaks in a redneck accent) takes them to exotic worlds. Finally the find Simon (David Hasselhoff--yeah, that's right David eff-in' Hasselhoff!) and the doomsday weapon, but they're captured by the evil count. And just when you think all hope is lost...well, I shouldn't give this away, but the Emperor has the ability to Stop the Freakin' Flow of Time! There is just no no freakin' way this could get any better! Bravo, Luigi Cozzi, bravo! (and why the heck did you change your name to Lewis Coates for this film?)

And that's how I spent April Fool's Day.

Jason watches "A Zen Life"

So after I saw "The Host" this really just filled a time slot until it was time for the first "Sleazy Sunday". Not enough time to go home and come back, so it was either catch a flick or go to a bar and drink for a couple of hours. For the record, I'm glad I saw this movie (and I had plenty of time to drink a beer before "Sleazy Sundays", which is all I really wanted).

Anyway, "A Zen Life" is a documentary about the life of D. T. Suzuki, the man who, more than anyone else, brought the Zen Buddhism philosophy to the West. The movie mixes a fairly straightforward telling of his life with interviews from influential artists, philosophers, religious leaders, and psychologists (but he's a cool enough guy I won't hold the psychologists against him) whom he's influenced. An interesting man, and an interesting movie. I particularly liked his metaphor of religion as a mountain, and it doesn't really matter which path you take to the top, the summit is the same any way. It probably would've been more interesting if I was a Buddhist, or religious at all.

Jason watches "The Host"

And it's a pretty cool Korean monster movie (with moster effects from SF's own The Orphanage, so it's got a local connection). In fact, it's the highest grossing Korean movie ever (that is, demostic gross in South Korea). I like pretty much everything about this movie. The monster's cool looking and scary. The humor works, the pathos works. But most of all, the heavy anti-authoritarian message really, really works.

It starts out with an anti-U.S. statement, as the evil American doctor in the morgue on a U.S. military base forces his Korean assistant to dump hundreds of bottles of formaldehyde down the drain, just because the bottles got dusty. The drain goes to the river, and creates a giant mutant monster. But if the Americans are corrupt, the Korean authorities are complicit--either through corruption or incompetence, as the resulting monster quickly rampages out of control, and is the host for a virus that slowly kills anyone who touches it. Caught in the rampage is the Park family--specifically Park Gang-Du, a really bad father who misses his daughter's parent-teacher day but makes up for it by giving her an ice-cold beer because after all, she's in junior high now. His daughter Hyun-seo is taken by the monster, and thought to be dead, until he gets a phone call from her the next night. She's trapped in the sewers somewhere, so he has to break quarantine and find her, with the help of the whole family--Grandpa, uncle Nam-il (brilliant college graduate, but drunk and unemployed), and aunt Nam-joo (a bronze-medal archer, but would be gold if she wasn't so hesitant).

This movie is great, and works on so many levels--comedy, horror, politics, family, everything.

Okay, I've already written more than I typically do for general release. Got to to read tons more reviews (it's got a 92% fresh rating as of this writing).