Monday, October 8, 2007

Jason goes to the Santa Cruz Secret Film Festival

Aka, the kinda stupid and incredibly exhausting 14 movies straight with no sleep--part 2!

So the fabulous Del Mar theater in Santa Cruz has done an amazing event for the past three years--a movie marathon of secret never-shown-in-Santa Cruz (but possibly in SF and elsewhere in the bay area) movies. I missed the first year, but last year was awesome. This year they've added a sixth movie so it's midnight to noon. Here was the rundown:

First up was "Lars and the Real Girl", starring Ryan Gosling, who after "Half Nelson" is one of the most interesting young actors around today. Here he plays the title role (Lars, not the real girl) a sweet natured but shy young man in a small Canadian town. He lives in the converted garage of his brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and sister-in-law Karin (Emily Mortimer), and only comes out for work (where co-worker Margo, played by Kelli Garner, has an obvious crush on him) or church (where Margo can't keep her eyes off him from the choir). One day at work a co-worker shows him the Real Doll website (NSFW). So he orders one, but when it arrives things get weird. He doesn't have sex with it, he tells his Gus and Karin that he has a visitor from out of town whom he met on the Internet. They're both very religious and so could she sleep in the house instead of the garage? When they meet "Bianca", they're a bit taken aback. But they convince Lars to take "her" to the hospital to get a checkup. The doctor (Patricia Clarkson) sees nothing wrong with Bianca except maybe low blood pressure, and she should come over for medicine every few days. While she's there, resting for an hour after she takes her medicine, Lars and the doctor should talk. In the meantime, the doctor advises everyone else to play along, because this is how Lars is dealing with his issues (later we learn that human touch is psychosomatically painful to him, and it has something to do with his mom dying giving birth to him and his father being distant at best as a result). The doctor's advice might well be given to the audience, because as Bianca becomes a pillar of the society--volunteering at the hospital, joining clubs, etc., if you don't go along with this main premise then the characters will just seem painfully dumb. But if you go along with it, there's real humor, romance, and pathos. Very sweet, and a little sad.

Next up was a short and a feature. The feature was Wes Anderson's new brothers-finding-themselves rail movie, "The Darjeeling Limited", and the short was a prequel to it, "Hotel Chevalier", which is apparently available online and feature Natalie Portman naked (that oughta boost the hits on this blog! For the record, nice ass, nice side-boob, but needs a sammich. I only want to see that many ribs if their on my plate slathered in BBQ sauce). The shorts a simple little story of a man (Jason Schwartzman) living in a hotel in Paris. His ex-girlfriend (Natalie Portman) tracks him down and spends one day with him, having sex with him no matter how cruel he is to her. It's a fine example of Wes Anderson's scene-crafting ability, and exemplifies exactly what I love about "The Darjeeling Limited". Namely, I love that this wasn't in the feature film. Wes Anderson has always had a talent for crafting scenes, but I've always thought his films meander with too many excellent stand-alone scenes that don't really move anything forward--they're just there to spend a few more minutes with the characters. Before "The Darjeeling Limited", I though "Rushmore" came the closest to actually telling a story without a lot of unneeded scenes. Fans of "The Royal Tenenbaums" or "The LIfe Aquatic with Steve Zissou" might find "The Darjeeling Limited" light, but I liked the fact that every scene moves the movie forward and there's nothing that doesn't need to be there. You should see "Hotel Chevalier" before "The Darjeeling Limited", because you'll notice a handful of inside jokes that wouldn't mean anything (but also wouldn't distract) without it. It also makes Portman's half-second of screen time meaningful. Anyway, I loved this movie and I think it marks the change of Wes Anderson from an undisciplined wunderkind to an accomplished filmmaker. Oh, and setting it in India makes the recurring Kumar Pallana cameos pretty seemless--he's just a guy on a train. Oh, and I guess I should say something about the plot. Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, and Owen Wilson are brothers who haven't spoken since their father's funeral. Owen Wilson convinces them to go on this trip to "find themselves" and reconnect. But he has an ulterior motive--finding the mother who abandoned them.

Oh yeah, and this was my 365th movie of the year. No matter what else happens, I've officially averaged over one movie a day for the year.

Next up was "The Signal", which I had already seen at the SF International Film Festival (scroll to the bottom, it was the late movie). I'll pretty much stand by my review, but add that somehow I was more awake for this screening and got more out of it (thanks a lot, free Stella Artois!) Specifically, I really keyed in on the fact that although everyone is going crazy and killing each other, each person thinks himself sane. If everyone else has gone crazy and is likely to kill you, it's sane to kill them first. Very interesting.

And then the west coast premiere of Richard Kelly's eagerly awaited "Southland Tales" (as in, it was supposed to be released a year ago, but tanked at Cannes and the distributor didn't know what to do with it). It's coming out on November 7th, and I'm predicting it will tank here. It's a bloated, mess, but a hilarious mess. I don't know if I can judge it until I've read the graphic novels (oh yeah, they had a raffle at the end but no one would take the "Southland Tales" merchandise, so I got the graphic novels and a poster for free), seen the movie a few more times, and watched Richard Kelly's next five movies to see how it fits into his obsessions. It's a frantic mish-mash of nonsensical intersecting stories taking place over 3 apocalyptic days around Los Angeles. It's 2008, and the terrorist nuking of Texas two years ago has created a Republican majority and an expansion of the Patriot Act. The election will come down to California, where the Republicans are counting on the popularity of action star and presidential candidate's son-in-law Boxer Santoros (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson). Problem is, he's missing. Or he's shacking up with ex porn-star turned talk show pundit and recording artist Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar). Ummm...Justin Timberlake watches over everything from a gun turret mounted on the Santa Monica Pier (and facing the city, not the sea). Sean William Scott is twins, one of whom is a cop and one of whom is with the opposition--the neo-Marxists. There's sci-fi, political blather (although there's not really a political point beyond 'everyone is selfish and stupid on both sides'), time travel, super powers, inside jokes, etc. Basically it's 2.5 hours of Richard Kelly masturbating in your face. I just haven't decided yet if that's a bad thing. Probably it is, but I see this movie's one hope as being rediscovered as a "lost cult classic" 20 years from now, provided Richard Kelly has made movies more often than every 5 years, and provided some of them are more approachable and he becomes a cult director with a David Cronenberg/David Lynch type oeuvre. At that point, someone will look back at "Southland Tales" and say "I get it now!" For now, I'll just hope this colossal mess doesn't doom the chance of that happening. I am still eagerly anticipating "The Box".

Next up was "Fido", which I've seen twice. It's still awesome!

And finally, the bonus never-done-before sixth movie was a Hong Kong action flick, "Exiled" by Johnny To. I have to confess, I dozed off a bit at the start, so I didn't quite follow the setup, but I'm pretty sure this will end up in my DVD collection. It takes place on Macau where there are rival gangs shooting at each other (and a completely ineffectual cop who drops by for comic relief). There's a lot of impressive gunfights and blood spray. There's a character who has tried to get out of crime and lives with his wife and baby, and there are hit men sent to take him out, and others who try to stop them. It ends with a robbery of a ton of gold (although none of the gangsters know how much a ton is), and a final showdown with the wife and baby. Pretty good, but I was pretty freakin' tired.

Of course, that didn't stop me, as I drove back up to Fremont, fighting exhaustion, hallucinations, nausea, and traffic to make it to the BART in time to get back to Docfest. But that's a story for another post.

---Update---
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention. I noticed three of the movies ("Lars and the Real Girl", "The Darjeeling Limited", and "Fido") featured parent figures who were either absent (or dead) or unreliable. I wonder if Scott, who chose the movies for this and midnight movies at the Del Mar, has some sort of mommy and/or daddy issues.
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