Friday, February 8, 2008

Jason goes to Indiefest--opening night

All right, my favorite extended party of the year has started, and I'm already 11 movies behind in my blogging. Apologies to my loyal readers (I know, you're all anxiously waiting to know what I think), it's been a combination of good and bad that's kept me away from my blog. The bad, I've been incredibly busy at work. The good, I splurged and got a hotel in the city (just for the weekend), so I don't have to make it back home to Fremont every night. I've actually been much better rested, but I've also been away from a computer where I can blog. I'm actually writing this in my hotel room Sunday morning on a borrowed laptop (thank you Ira), and hopefully I'll find a wireless connection later today and post this.

Anyway, let me get to the movies. Opening night was a double feature, starting with the redneck opus "Shotgun Stories". It's full of the local flavor of rural Arkansas, and takes its sweet time introducing you to the three protagonists. For a while it seems only about the local flavor, and slowly letting you get to know Son, Kid, and Boy. In fact, it took me embarrassingly long to realize those weren't nicknames, those are their given names, courtesy of the father who never wanted them and a mother who is just a heartless, hateful woman. They're of course pretty messed up, living in poverty, and each with their own problems (and anger issues), but each doing their best to survive in their own way. Their lives (or reasonable attempts at it) is interrupted by a curt visit from their mother, who informs them that their father has died. When they attend the funeral, they discover that after abandoning them, he cleaned up, became a good man, and raised 4 more sons (who all got real names). Son has a little tirade ending in spitting on his father's coffin, and that triggers a feud that just gets more and more violent. This is where the movie really takes off, and the time invested earlier in getting to know the characters pays off. There's no one entirely likable in this movie, and I've seen many movies with unlikable characters that just rush to the action. The end result of such movies is I don't care about the fights, because I don't like or care about any of the fighters. But this movie spent the time to make me care about Son, Boy, and Kid. And so I want them to win the feud. Or, more to the point, I want them to reach a peace and not have to fight anymore. Which is really the moral center of this movie. Here's a picture of writer/director Jeff Nichols, at the Q&A afterwards:



Next up was a wild, frenetic ride--Belgium's submission for the best foreign language Oscar (it didn't make the cut), "Ben X". Ben is a mildly autistic Flemish high schooler. He has Asperger's Syndrome, making him ultra-sensitive to stimuli and making it almost impossible for him to speak (but not stupid, he's really very intelligent). However Ben X is his avatar in a MMORPG, where he is a mighty conquering hero (level 80, that's good). He even has a girlfriend in the game, although he's terrified to meet her in person. The movie makes excellent use of video game footage as a form of interior monologue, to let you know what he's fantasizing while going through his daily life. A staple of that daily life is two bullies who torment him mercilessly. Their bullying culminates in a horrible humiliation in front of the entire class (and pretty soon, the internet). In his fantasies, you can see the revenge he wants to take, and I was desperately hoping for bloody, visceral revenge. I won't give anything away, but the revenge he does get is in it's own appropriate way almost as sweet. Awesome.
Then a little after partying at Cell Space, bumming a ride home (thanks again, Ira), and back to work the next day. And so it begins...
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