Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 11

Well, it's all over (sort of), and I've had a day of rest, now it's time to get back to the reviews:

First up on Saturday was Shorts Program 4: Come Together. The lineup:
Help Wanted
: An old mechanic gets some help with cars and with a positive attitude from his new assistant.
Odd Shoe: You can't get into schoolboy shenanigans with shoes that are falling apart.
Palm Trees Down 3rd Street: Local San Francisco short about a girl looking for her father and finding her sister instead.
Ridge County Requiem: A death of a farmer, set against the death of the traditional farming life.
Slow: Ironically, the quickest moving (and funniest) short in the program. A traffic worker in Los Angeles is upset because accidental pictures of him travel the world more than he does. So he travels the world to find and destroy all pictures of him. By Kurt Kuenne, who had previous Cinequest shorts with The Phone Book and Validation and the saddest documentary ever, Dear Zachary.
Songs From the Shed: Experimental, weird, beautiful. And there are songs...and they're from a shed.
The Fading Light: A modern Vietnamese family, living between the two worlds.

Next up was the social conscience program, starting with the short, The Response. Based on transcripts from a Guantanamo Bay administrative hearing, Aasif Mandvi stars as a prisoner unjustly incarcerated for four years, and unable to get even the name of the Al Qaeda member he allegedly knows. Kate Mulgrew and Peter Riegert co-star as members of the administrative panel (it's not a trial, just a hearing to determine if he was properly classified as an enemy combatant).

And then the feature doc, Raging Grannies. I met these ladies at the kick-off party over a month ago, and I had to see their movie because...they kind of scare me. Activism mixed with street theater, these elderly ladies (technically there is no age limit, and you don't actually have to be a grandmother) dress up in granny dresses (with elaborate hats) and protest...many things. Repeal prop 8, end the Iraq War, environmental issues, whatever. The group was actually started in England in 1987 to protest nuclear submarines. Now they have over 60 "gaggles" around the world. Director Pam Walton follows the local gaggle around and the movie is very much cinema verite--let the video run and capture whatever happens. The grannies are the star, and they approach their protest events with passion and good humor, disarming their targets with their totally non-threatening appearance. Oh yeah, I was totally kidding earlier when I said they scared me. In fact, there might be a picture somewhere on the Internet of me dancing on a table with one of them. Thank you ladies! Great movie, and keep up the good work.

So then from local activism I traveled all the way to Kazakhstan for Song From the Southern Seas. A story of peaceful coexistence, a Russian couple and a Kazakh couple live side by side in piece and harmony. That is, until the Russian's son is born with distinctly dark skin. So he beats up his Kazakh friend, calls his wife a whore, and basically raises a big fuss. Then cut to 15 years later, they're still living side-by-side. Apparently this is a world where major insults are resolved by having a big fist fight, presumably getting drunk (actually he was drunk before his son was born), and then getting over it. Well, now his young son is getting into trouble as a horse thief, and feels caught between worlds. His father gets beaten up on his behalf, the wives get ferociously drunk together, and the Russian father goes on a trip to see his grandfather (after his clothes get stolen) and learns a little something about his roots. A simple world brought to life with humor, grace, and beauty, even if the story takes it's sweet time wandering around in that world.

Speaking of a guy who likes to take his sweet time and wander around through his world, the next film was the documentary, Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes. It plays out with the same tempo as his radio show, "A Prairie Home Companion". He tells stories, he travels the country doing his show at state fairs, etc. He talks about his roots, but for all I know is always lying (he tells a few different stories of where he grew up). Mostly, he's just a cool guy with a temperament that makes you want to listen, and then he surprises you with something completely off the wall. But what's really interesting is watching how much he writes. I've always thought of him as a voice artist, a variety show host, but he really does a lot of the writing himself. Watching him hold court with his team is really fun.

And from that gentle humor we turn a complete 180 degrees with Johnny Mad Dog. A brutal, fast-paced in-your-face story of Liberian child soldiers. Cutting a swatch to the capitol like Sherman marching to the see, this film never freakin' lets up. "General" Johnny Mad Dog and his soldiers rampage with automatic weapons while sporting outrageous names like No Good Advice and outrageous costumes like a wedding dress. Meanwhile, in Monrovia a young girl named Laokolé, a promising student, tries to avoid the violence while taking care of her crippled father and young brother. Of course, she gets caught in the destruction. Yeah, there's a typical narrative here, but the point is the brutal, matter-of-fact style that shoves the violence and destruction in your face until you want to vomit it back out. It would be absolutely wrong to say I "enjoyed" the movie, but I can say I loved it.

And finally, after all that I relaxed with the midnight program, Shorts Program 1: Dark Humor in the Dark.
Boutonniere: Preparing for prom, with an overly intrusive mother.
Dan and a Van: If you're a home-porn afficianado redneck hick, and you want to sell your van, make sure the buyer isn't a child molester before you sell it. Hilarious.
A Day in a Life: Interlinking events, everyone needs some money, some people try to steal it.
The Funeral: Make sure dad's dead before you bury him. You know, a lot of this program wouldn't exist if people just thought ahead.
A Heart Too Tender: Think of the possible consequences before you play a prank on striking screenwriters.
Kicking Sand in Your Face: Nice guy gets tired of being bullied. He starts working out, becomes buff, and then sees the bully again. He should think of the possible consequences before getting his revenge.
The Story of Sputnik: I bet the USSR didn't think of the eventual chain of events before launching the first...okay this is getting stupid. The movie was awesome, the lead actor is even awesomer. The line, "This page intentionally Les Blank" is awesomest.
Welgünzêr: I love time travel movies. And this one was hilarious, riddled with paradox, and murder/suicide?
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