Saturday, February 5, 2011

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 2

Now it's starting in earnest, and starts with a little twisted weirdness from Mexico, WE ARE WHAT WE ARE. It's an earnest family drama, a story of grief and struggles after the father dies. Not that he was a great man, but he did provide. Now there are power struggles, mother vs. sons, sons vs. each other, a daughter who seems to be the only one with a solid head on her shoulders. It's also a story about coming out of the closet. Oh yeah, and it's got cannibalism, whores, inept cops, and (for some reason) lots and lots of clocks. But let's go back to the cannibalism and whores. If I described this as a movie about cannibals vs. prostitutes, it would be completely accurate and totally misleading. It isn't the exploitation elements that are the driving force behind the movie, it's the drama and the characters. And of course, that tricks you into caring about the cannibals for reasons completely unrelated to their rituals. Brilliantly done, and very funny.

Next up, a pair of long shorts (they barely straddle the 40 minutes cutoff the Academy uses to define "shorts" for Oscar contention, so technically GOLD FARMERS is a short while SECOND BODIES is a feature, even though there is only 8 minutes difference in running times).

GOLD FARMERS is the story of Chinese "farmers"--gamers who collect gold/items/experience points for players of online games (e.g., World of Warcraft). These are kids in China who export their gaming labor to western gamers who want to skip the tedious parts of the game and get to the epic quests. They work 10 hour days, usually with just one day off a month (which they spend gaming. You know, they say if you do what you love you'll never work a day in your life). At first glance, of course this seems pretty odd. And I'm not a gamer so I can't tell you personally how much sense it does or doesn't make. But I can say that it was presented as a totally legitimate business model. The founder of one "farm" explains that on a trip to the U.S. he was struck by how everything from food to a haircut cost eight times more in America. While he can't export a meal or a haircut, he can easily export his time, so he does. Although there are roadblocks--the Chinese government shuts down his Paypal account, so he has to get an American partner; game makers themselves shut down farming accounts; and there are vigilantes opposed to farmers who run quests to kill them (even though they're way off in the wasteland killing minor monsters and not bothering anyone). I think it's most revealing that as odd as gold farming is, it was the vigilante railing against it who appeared to have absolutely no life.

And then SECOND BODIES, an exploration of Second Life. Or rather, it's Second Life used as an exploration of body issues and disability. Director Sandra Danilovic features herself and her friends (a heavy set bi-polar woman and another woman with cerebral palsy) talking about their lives both online and in the real world. There's a lot about how they're unhappy with their lives and their bodies in the real world, but in Second Life they can be sexy fox ladies, or whatever they want to be. It's a very visual movie, mixing machinima (live video capture of a game) with live action pieces. And for the most part it's interesting enough. I'm just sorry to say that I found Danilovic's voice really annoying (and too loud), so the movie would've been about 10 times better with a different narrator.

And finally, the night ended with some midnight madness, MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED! After a good 40 minute delay while the film escaped the snowstorms in Boston and arrived at SFO (we decided to wait rather than watch a screener with a huge timecode on the bottom), the fun started. It's directed by Mark Hartley, who made the outrageously fun Oz-sploitation doc NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD, and he's at it again with another forgotten genre--exploitation films of the 70's and 80's from the Philippines. Mostly Roger Corman stuff, and he's interviewed extensively in the film. So are his stars and directors like Joe Dante, Jack Hill, Sid Haig, Pam Grier, etc. And a hilarious John Landis to burst bubbles and keep things in perspective whenever anyone suggests these films were secretly subversive works of art. The Philippines is described as alternatively the wild, wild, east and the only place in Asia that still loved America after Vietnam (they still remember MacArthur freeing them). It's also shown as a repressive, brutal regime under Marcos--who was very accommodating to American filmmakers (and their money). Mostly it's shown as a place that schlock filmmakers made some very cheap, very outrageous movies. All of which I now want to see (check that, all I really want to see is the midget Weng Weng in his Bond spoofs AGENT 00 and FOR Y'UR HEIGHT ONLY). Near the end, it describes the fall of exploitation--or rather, the fall of cheap exploitation, as filmmakers started making exploitation plots with budget and talent. You know, like STAR WARS and JAWS. Finally, they end the era of American movies in the Philippines with APOCALYPSE NOW. At least, that's how I think it ended. Actually, the movie froze up with about 4 minutes left. Neither the print from Boston or the time-coded screener would play. So if there was an amazing summing-up line at the very end, I don't know what it was. And whatever it was, it wasn't needed for me to love this movie.

Total Running Time: 273 minutes (that includes the 4 minutes of MACHETE MAIDENS that wouldn't play. I waited 40 extra minutes in the theater for that, and I freakin' deserve it!)
My Total Minutes: 221,113
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