Monday, March 1, 2010

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 5

Big Saturday, 6 movies. Let's go:

First up was PASSENGER SIDE, an oddball road comedy about brothers, drugs, lost love, and really weird characters. Michael gets a call from his brother Toby, and immediately with the way they joke with each other you can tell they have an easy familiarity but also a bit of familial resentment. Early back-and-forth over the phone (paraphrased to the best of my memory):
"Hello Asshole"
"How did you know it was me? It could've been mom"
"No, mom would've hung up when I didn't answer, instead of letting it ring forever like an asshole."
Well, that call turns out to be Toby asking Michael to drive him around all day. But not for any old errands, to find a girl. Oh yeah, and never mind that it's Michael's birthday, he doesn't mind giving up his birthday plans to drive his ex-junkie brother around. And somehow, at every stop something really, really weird happens (usually to Michael, while Toby is away). Like a transvestite hooker hops in the car, starts beating off, and charges him $40. Or at one gas station Toby picks up a dog. When Michael asks the attendant if its his dog, he responds "Why? You wanna fuck it?" Pretty funny stuff. I had an old Cinequest friend in the audience with whom I have a standing agreement. If there's ever an actual Cinerama movie playing anywhere in the world (the only possible locations would be Seattle, Los Angeles, or just outside London), we're going on a road trip. After PASSENGER SIDE, we both agreed that our road trip would likely include banter similar to Toby and Michael's. At least, if we're lucky.

PASSENGER SIDE plays again 3/4 at 11:30 am

So next up Cinequest veteran Cullen Hoback (FREEDOM STATE, MONSTER CAMP) is back with a bit of a mindbender--FrICTION. Cullen taught film at a small (well, attendance dropped from ~80 to 7) summer camp program. The camp is run by Jeremy and Amy Mathison. One bright scholarship camper is August Thompson. Cullen decides he will use these people not just as actors, but as characters in his movie. In fact, the film class will make a movie in which August comes between Jeremy and Amy. And two years later, after an extremely difficult editing job, what he presented last Saturday was not just that movie, but also the "making of" documentary about that movie, and yet another movie about how making the movie wrecked these people's lives. Their characters, who are already not that distinct from themselves (they use the same names) start to blur into their real lives, and since they're scripted to behave badly, they start behaving badly. People get hurt, there are huge revelations, and with each potentially production-ending surprise (e.g., August walking off the set and disappearing for a while) Cullen's response is to put it in the movie.

Or I don't know, maybe all those surprises were scripted? Maybe they're breaking the fourth wall, but it's not really real. Actually, Cullen gave a lot away in the Q&A, but I'll never tell. Not that there's anything to give away, you should take the movie completely at face value...or not.

I suppose it's a movie about making a movie, which in a way is the most self-indulgent type of indie film. But by casting non-actors (or were those actors playing non-actors?) he makes the story accessible to non-filmmakers. And by casting people as themselves, it's about how making a movie destroys innocent people's lives. Which is surprisingly funny.

FrICTION plays again on 3/2 at 9:00 pm.

And then I saw something I knew was darn well and documentary, CLEANFLIX. There are--or were--businesses, mostly in Utah, that would edit Hollywood movies to remove the sex, swearing, and (sometimes) violence. And then they'd sell or rent these movies back to (usually Mormon) customers. CLEANFLIX tells the story of the rise, proliferation, legal battles, and ultimately the fall of these operations (although one service that doesn't edit the DVDs but makes players that skip over pre-programmed scenes is still allowed). And it tells the story of Daniel Thompson, a edited video store owner who stays open long after it was ruled illegal. And without giving away spoilers, there's a pretty jaw-dropping twist. Oh yeah, and the comparison scenes of the originals vs. Clean Flicks versions were pretty illuminating. They're not just bleeping out a swear word or covering up a boob, they're cutting out whole scenes so that the movie doesn't make sense.

It's a fascinating story, and the filmmakers were sort of lucky with the Daniel Thompson twist. But I have to give them only middling credit for really tackling the questions of art, ownership, and censorship involved. They interview Hollywood directors as well clean video editors, distributors, and fans. And they all get to say their piece, but I don't think either side is really challenged that hard.

To Hollywood: if they buy a regular DVD for every one they edit, who really is hurt? All that's happening is you get more money and people who would otherwise not see your movie get to see a watered-down version. I understand your "artistic vision", but it's kind of like saying you shouldn't be allowed to see a low-res, faded print of the Mona Lisa, you can only see it in the Louvre.

To Cleanflix editors, distributors, fans: You spend so much time railing against the evil, immoral Hollywood, yet you desperately want their product. Why? You sound like you're saying, "I really like crack, maybe with a slightly different recipe, but I want to continue hating crack dealers."
I think my metaphors might be weak. But the point is I wanted more than just a reporting of the chronology of what happened, I wanted some more scenes challenging the beliefs of both sides.

CLEANFLIX plays again 3/3 at 11:45 am


And then another documentary, THE REAL REVOLUTIONARIES. It's the story of the transistor, the integrated circuit, the growth of Silicon Valley, and the people who did it. Starting with William Shockley, who some argue as the greatest genius since Newton (yes, that includes Einstein). He won a Nobel Prize for inventing the transistor, taking us out of the vacuum tube age. And he started his own transistor company near San Jose. It failed. In part because he was an awful boss. But the "traitorous eight" (later the "Fairchild Eight") left and teamed up with a venture capitalist (named, of all things, Sherman Fairchild) and formed Fairchild semiconductors. Among them, Robert Noyce, who invented the integrated circuit (at the same time as Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments. Ultimately Kilby won the Nobel, and Noyce couldn't share it because he had died and they don't give out posthumous Nobels). From Fairchild, Noyce and Gordon Moore founded a little company called Intel. And that company grew until it was big enough to be Cinequest's biggest sponsor. The end. Oh yeah, the movie contrasts it with other events of the time--sputnik, Vietnam, Kent State, etc. and makes the fairly breezy case that what was happening in Santa Clara Valley (now more familiarly known as Silicon Valley) was the real revolution and they were the real revolutionaries. No debate here.

Although there's not a whole lot of information I haven't heard before, I have to give the filmmakers credit for keeping a visually dynamic style in what could've been a deadly dry movie. Birds-eye scenes of the valley changing from orchards to labs and office buildings are pretty stunning.

That was the last scheduled showing of THE REAL REVOLUTIONARIES. Sorry.

And then I caught SHORT 7: Comedy Favorites. I've been pretty weak at catching the shorts programs this year. Anyway, here we go...
THE ACTION HERO'S GUIDE TO SAVING LIVES: Patrick Warburton is Ace Mulligan, an action hero who always saves the day, no matter how many tries it takes.
ALWAYS A BRIDE: Some guys just aren't ready to get divorced, no matter how long they've been together. But don't you want to start a family? And I'll start a different family? And we'll get together on holiday's with both families?
THE DEVIL'S WEDDING: Even the prince of darkness is no match for bridezilla. And a very unhelpful hotel clerk/priest.
DUCKED AND COVERED: A SURVIVAL GUIDE TO THE POST APOCALYPSE: Pretty self-explanatory, whether you're going for the Mad Max look or are shooting for Ayatollah of Rock-n-Rolla.
MAN'S BEST FRIEND: I like doggies, but not quite as much as this guy.
MIDLIFE: Sometimes all you need to drag yourself out of a funk is to run over the right corporate criminal.
NOTHING HAPPENED: A funny conversation between girlfriends that goes places it probably shouldn't.
TRUE BEAUTY THIS NIGHT: Hey, I saw this one at Indiefest. A man returns a purse, with surprising results.
TWO THEORIES, ONE STONE: A couple of douchebags talking in a diner about FARGO, city-living vs. country-living, and theories that don't hold up to scrutiny.

That was the last scheduled screening of Shorts 7. Sorry.

And finally, I ended the night with a really weird movie that at first I tossed aside as an amusing trifle but lately I find it won't leave my mind. LITTLE FISH, STRANGE POND stars Matthew Modine and Callum Blue as Mr. Jack and Sweet Stephen, respectively. They start on a park bench, philosophizing on life and good vs. evil. They wander along to a video store owned by Bucky (Zach Galifianakis from THE HANGOVER). They're there to get some drugs, but a holdup leaves a clerk dead, Bucky freaking out, and Mr. Jack and Sweet Stephen surprisingly unconcerned and enjoying talking to the robber (best line from Galifianakis, "What is this, MY HOLDUP WITH ANDRE?") As they make their way through the day, they philosophize more, they go to bars, they talk to Tommy the cop (Adam Baldwin), they find a murdered woman, etc. And they end at a taping of a daytime tabloid talk show where the host is interviewing a little boy who murdered his parents. I got into a bit of a discussion with a friend who had a different take on the interpretation of the movie. Possibly large parts of the movie are hallucinated, or one character is the devil. I tended to take a more literal reading of events. But I was left wondering if the movie actually had a philosophy that was lost in the absurdism, or if it was just absurdity for absurdity's sake. Either way, I can dig it, and have ended up thinking about it more than I thought I would.

There was one more screening of LITTLE FISH, STRANGE POND last night, but I didn't get this written up in time. Now I'm really sorry.

Anyway, that was last Saturday at Cinequest.

Total Running Time: 543 Minutes
My Total Minutes: 174,143
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