Thursday, May 6, 2010

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 11 (with a detour to Bad Movie Night)

So despite staying up very, very late to see ALL ABOUT EVIL on Saturday night, I was still up bright and early Sunday morning and made it to the Kabuki just in time for the secret member's screening. That is, a secret screening for members, not a screening for secret members. And really, the screening wasn't a secret, it was in the festival mini-guide, it's just exactly what was screening was a secret.

And after some hi-jinx with festival director Graham Leggat (that devolved into charades), we found that the movie was MOTHER AND CHILD, featuring a lot of great acting (great female acting has been a highlight of the festival). It opens with a very tender scene of two fourteen year olds preparing to have sex. Flash 37 years in the future, and that little girl (named Karen) is played by Annette Benning. She still has nightmares about the daughter she gave up for adoption. That daughter, who named herself Elizabeth, is Naomi Watts (in real life, only 10 years younger than Annette Benning), and she's now a successful lawyer who refuses to put down roots in either a place (although she keeps returning "home" to Los Angeles) or in a relationship. She does have an affair with her new boss, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Karen splits her time between taking care of her frail, elderly mother, bickering with the maid and her adorable daughter, and working as a physical therapist--an incredibly bitter, angry one. Fellow hospital worker Jimmy Smitts starts paying attention to her, and after brushing him off a few times they finally get together, and he convinces her to go to the adoption agency and see if she can't contact her daughter. Which might or might not be a bad thing. And finally, Lucy (Kerry Washington) and Joseph (David Ramsey) are trying to conceive with her husband but isn't successful, so they're looking to adopt. Everything comes together a little too neatly at the end (although getting there is anything but simple, and has its share of tragedy). But mostly this movie is about excellent performances by a wide array of women navigating the dual roles of mother and child.

And now back to our regularly scheduled festival with the documentary PIANOMANIA. How interesting could a documentary about piano tuning possibly be? Turns out, when you're tuning Steinway grands for world famous virtuosos, pretty interesting. Stefan Knüpfer is the man in charge of the Vienna Steinway-Haus, and collaborates with some pretty amazing pianists. The focus of the film is his year-long collaboration with Pierre-Laurent Aimard, planning to record Bach's "The Art of the Fugue." And to make it clear, this is more than just making sure the piano is in tune. Every piano has its own character, and there are many difficult moves as they switch out pianos looking for the perfect one. The felt hammers have their own characters, and one of the best scenes is when Knüpfer receives a new set of hammers and immediately realizes they're about 0.6-0.7 mm too wide--they'll never work! It's a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at incredibly specialized work, and it also features some beautiful music. Always nice, since it's a very aural movie, it's easy to close ones eyes and take a power nap while enjoying the music. But I seemed to always snap awake in just a few minutes, because the technical aspects behind it were also so interesting.

Then I saw another documentary, this one on the Mexican "justice" system--PRESUMED GUILTY. José Antonio Zúñiga (nicknamed Tono) was a gangster rapper, and was at a bad point in his life when he pleaded with God to either kill him or put him in jail. Well, God obliged by sending the cops after him on a murder charge. Despite witnesses placing him far away at the time of the crime, just one witness who didn't name him until his third interview (after the police told the witness Tono was a suspect), and never even being told what crime he was being arrested for, he was still convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Berkeley lawyers-with-cameras Roberto Hernández and Layda Negrete (who similarly explored the Mexican judicial system in 2006's THE TUNNEL) both took on his appeal and documented the ordeal, starting with a new trial. Hey, at least this time the judge showed up for trial instead of letting an underling preside (apparently very common in Mexico). Too bad the judge (same judge that found him guilty before) has no interest in hearing the new evidence or in admitting that he could've made a mistake. Court officials look like bored bureaucrats rather than officers upholding the law. When asked why she was accusing Tono, the prosecutor scoffs and says, "Because it's my job." I want to tell you there's a happy ending to this story, but that would be a spoiler. Oh, fuck it--his conviction is overturned on appeal (not by the first judge, they take it to a higher court). Moral of the story--don't get arrested in Mexico. At least, not unless you have a few years to waste in the squalor of prison and know some pretty talented and persistent lawyers-with-cameras.

Now I have to digress. I've been criminally negligent in not mentioning how awesome the hospitality lounge has been this year. I've only been press for 2 years now, so I don't know a lot about how it was in the past, but I know this year it's a much more happenin' place than last. And I'm not the only one who agrees. Last year, I was all about making it to the theater just in time for the movie. This year, I've been getting there early just to take advantage of happy hour (free drinks starting at 5:30). I've drunk so much sponsor beer (scientific fact--beer tastes better when it sponsors a film festival) that my blood is about 35% Stella Artois now (which gives me such a bubbly personality).

So I mention the hospitality lounge because at this point they were integral in preparing me for the next stage of my Sunday adventure--taking a break from SFIFF to co-host Bad Movie Night at the Darkroom. They crammed me full of Stella Artois (and, oddly enough, one glass of wine) and then I hopped on a bus to the heart of the Mission. There I grabbed another six-pack (I forget what kind of beer) and settled in to kick off Will Smith month, starting with I AM LEGEND.

I AM LEGEND is actually a pretty good movie. At least, you can tell it's artsy and shit because nothing happens for so much of the movie! Will Smith walks around with his dog, who he loves even more than his family whom he abandoned to their deaths while he rules New York alone. Oh, and there's zombies (apparently created by a genetically altered measles virus? Science has doomed us all!) but by the time they showed up I didn't care. And the whole movie was ruined by a drunk-ass racist with giant hair sitting in the front row and making so-called "jokes" into the microphone.

Then there was one final SFIFF movie that night--up to the Castro for THE LOVED ONES. Now I could mention how exceedingly drunk I was. I could also mention that I was surviving on about 2 hours sleep and had been watching movies pretty continuously for over 12 hours at this point. But instead, I like to think I AM LEGEND was so awful it put me into a mini-coma for about 80 minutes during this movie. Great ending, though!

Total Running Time: 493 minutes (yes, I'm counting THE LOVED ONES even though I slept through it. You still get frequent flier miles even if you sleep on the airplane)
My Total Minutes: 184,129
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