Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 6

Finishing up the first weekend with a 5 movie Sunday:

First up was a movie that I didn't know about until I met the filmmakers at a party. This was due to an error in the printed Cinequest guide (BTW, pick up the Metro for the latest updated guide and schedule). Networking works, filmmakers (and these guys did it well)!

Anyway, COST OF A SOUL is the interwoven story of two Iraq war vets who return home to Philadelphia, where different sources of violence continue to accost them. Tommy Donahue worked in the Irish mob. He joined the army to get away from that, and now he's back home with his wife and meeting 4 year old daughter for the first time. But the local mob boss pressures him back into working. Meanwhile DD has to deal with his older brother who has moved on from just selling a little weed to becoming the neighborhood drug kingpin. And DD is charged with protecting his mom and his little brother from that influence. Both DD and Tommy joined the military to escape exactly these conditions, and returning home they find very little has changed and their military experience doesn't necessarily prepare them for the different kind of war at home. It's a tight, thrilling story, and eventually Tommy and DD's worlds cross paths. And the acting is excellent.

COST OF A SOUL plays again 3/5 at 11:30 am

So after that dark drama, it was time for a little laughter with CUMMINGS FARM, or as I like to call it, MY BIG, AWKWARD, JEWISH ORGY. Three couples go to Cummings Farm for a night of consequence-free sex. But they're all weird and neurotic. Alan and Yasmine have just started dating, and Yasmine is more than a little controlling. Rachel and Gordon live together. Gordon is an alcoholic and casual drug user. Alan is secretly in love with Rachel. Tina (Laura Silverman, an actual star in this film) and Todd are married with children. Todd is batshit insane (when we first see him, he drinks his own pee), and the orgy was basically his idea. Add in a drug dealer (crap, now I can't remember if he was Lorenz or Lavar, and that's a running joke in the movie...) who is Gordon's hookup for Ecstasy but who scares the heck out of Alan (who points out that he's not afraid of all black guys, just that black guy). And so hilarity is bound to ensue. And for the first 75% or so, it is a wacky screwball (no pun intended) sex comedy. And then it takes an oddly dramatic turn as...well, I don't want to give away spoilers. It's pretty obvious early on that with this mix of neurotic vs. zany, no orgy is going to work out well. But it takes a very unexpected tonal shift in the end that is probably more rewarding than any screwball comedy ending would be.

CUMMINGS FARM plays again 3/5 at 1:30 pm

Next up was yet another movie that I saw based on chatting with the filmmakers, BUMMER SUMMER. I have to start by talking about the look of the film. It was shot on a digital camera. I can't remember the exact model, but it's a digital still camera that also has a movie mode. Basically the cheapest, low-rent camera this side of cell phones. And the movie looks amazing. Excellent use of black and white and very well composed shots. Cinematographer Nandan Rao deserves huge credit for this. As for the story itself, Isaac, his big brother Ben, and Ben's ex-girlfriend Lila go on a road trip to see a giant hedge maze they read about in a book of roadside attractions. Oh yeah, back up a little bit. Isaac just finished his senior year of high school, and his girlfriend breaks up with him. Oh, and on the way he realizes he's attracted to Lila, too, and so there's that awkwardness. And there's some deadpan humor. But mostly it's a whole lot of nothing happens. Still, the look and the performances were impressive.

BUMMER SUMMER plays again 3/3 at 12:15 pm. Holy crap, that's just a couple of hours away! Go now!

Then I saw the documentary TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: KA SHEN'S JOURNEY. Ka Shen is better known as Nancy Kwan, the beautiful Eurasian (Chinese father, English mother) star of THE WORLD OF SUZIE WONG and FLOWER DRUM SONG. This movie is all about her, her turbulent childhood (fleeing from the invading Japanese), her sometimes difficult relationship to her parents (who separated at the time), her stage and film career, and her latest tragedy involving her son. Actually, that part I don't think is handled well. They start the movie by showing her at a temple dealing with "the loss of someone close to her." They don't even mention she has a son until very near the end of the film, and it's immediately clear he is who she's mourning. Other than that, it's a very engaging documentary. Probably better suited to die hard Nancy Kwan fans. I confess to very little knowledge of her, and only brief familiarity with her two big films. But now I want to see them, so I guess that's an endorsement.

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: KA SHEN'S JOURNEY is not scheduled to play again. Sorry.

And finally, I ended the night (and the first weekend of Cinequest 20) with a work-in-progress screening of SUPER HERO PARTY CLOWN, played to a very, very hometown audience. Produced at San Jose State, it's a comedy about comic-book geek Eugene Stimpson. He plays Arachnid-Man (the 70's version, not the fancy new version) at birthday parties. And while he's a hero when he's wearing the costume, in his normal identity he doesn't even have the courage to talk to Emily, the girl he's liked since...forever. To make matters worse, she's dating Todd, a total douche-bag who's also his nemesis at school. And when Emily shows the slightest interest in Arachnid Man (because her little brother is a huge fan), Todd gets a job playing a rival superhero. And so Eugene has to protect his secret identity (for needlessly complicated reasons, he doesn't want Emily to find out), while trying to sabotage Todd and win the girl. Oh, and I forgot the best part of the movie--sidekick/party clown Garth Gator (Zack Sutherland). He's really funny.

So the movie is definitely low budget, and as I said it's a work-in-progress screening. It's a rough cut without finished sound, etc, and could use some more editing to make it snappier. I'd really need to watch the final version with a more realistic audience before I can judge the film. Usually an enthusiastic audience is great, but when the cheers were so obviously out of proportion to the quality on screen, it's just disorienting. Still, it was fun, and I'll be ready to give it a fair chance when it's finished.

SUPER HERO PARTY CLOWN is not scheduled to play again. Sorry.

Total Running Time: 483 minutes
My Total Minutes: 174,626
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