Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Quick punctuation point. Although advertisements list it as BATTLE: LOS ANGELES, the actual title credit in the movie does not have a colon. So I'm not using it.

Anyway, I really didn't have much interest in this movie, and then two separate friends whose movie opinions I trust recommended it. And I was pleasantly surprised. It's relentless, throwing you right in the battle from the very beginning. It's also not at all about the alien invaders, it's about the soldiers. In fact, it's hero worship of Marines, especially the total badass played by Aaron Eckhart. And in a way that's kind of brilliant. Make a movie about the experience of soldiers in any real war, and the audience will be torn between admiration (at least, I hope we all feel admiration) for the soldiers who volunteer for such a difficult, dangerous job and your political views on the war. Instead it's a movie about the soldier's experience in the extreme case of an absolute existential war. The only people who could be against this fictional war would be people who want all humanity wiped off the face of the earth.

But anyway, I digress. It's a surprisingly good movie, and I'll leave it at that.

Running Time: 116 minutes
My Total Minutes: 230,842

Jason gets excited about the first annual Bean Bag Film Fest in San Jose

So I get e-mails fairly regularly from new, small film festivals wanting a little publicity. Normally, while I am interested I'm busy with other things or they conflict with a big film fest I'm already preparing for. But I got an e-mail today for a nice little event to tide me over until SFIFF. And even though I've seen every movie they're playing, it's a pretty awesome lineup and should be a fun three days--if people show up (nothing's more depressing than holding a film festival with no attendees). So here's hoping my friends--particularly my South Bay friends--show up. Below is the full press release e-mailed to me:

The Landmark Ballroom Will Host Inaugural Bean Bag Film Fest in San Jose

San Jose, CA – March 22, 2011 – Giant Creative Services in conjunction with the Landmark Ballroom at the San Jose Woman’s Club, presents the inaugural Bean Bag Film Fest, taking place Thursday, April 14 – Saturday, April 16. The Bean Bag Film Fest will feature three consecutive days of memorable films showcased in the retro Landmark Ballroom at 75 South 11th Street in downtown San Jose. The event, filled with bean bags for patrons to lounge on, will offer a unique social movie going experience where attendees can see films, mingle and enjoy eats from gourmet food trucks and beer and wine for purchase. Each night, the festival will showcase a double feature for $10 with a special $5 discount for patrons who come dressed in character. Nightly themes include “Life After Death,” with Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland; “Story Telling,” with Harold and Maude, andRushmore; and “You’re So Money, Dude!,” with Swingers and The Big Lebowski. The Bean Bag Film Fest is the first of a series of events at the Landmark Ballroom that encourages community members to visit this historic San Jose venue by way of diverse social and cultural experiences.

Event Schedule:

“Life After Death” ~ Thursday, April 14

Ages: 18 years and older

First Showing: Shaun of the Dead, 2004, 99 minutes, R

Time: 7p.m. Doors Open, 7:30p.m. Movie Begins

In Shaun of the Dead a man decides to turn his moribund life around by winning back his ex-girlfriend, reconciling his relationship with his mother, and dealing with an entire community that has returned from the dead, to eat the living.

Second Showing: Zombieland, 2009, 88 minutes, R

Time: 9:15p.m. Doors Open, 9:30p.m. Movie Begins

In this horror-comedy, two men, Columbus and Tallahassee, find a way to survive a world overrun by zombies. As they join forces with two others, they will have to come to terms with which is worse: relying on each other or succumbing to the zombies.

Gourmet treats will be on sale from Tikka Bytes (, fresh, Indian street food served with an American twist. An assortment of beer & wine will be available for purchase. Attendees who come dressed in zombie attire will receive a $5 discounted ticket.

“Story Telling” ~ Friday, April 15

Ages: 18 years and older

First Showing: Harold and Maude, 1971, 91 minutes, PG

Time: 7p.m. Doors Open, 7:30p.m. Movie Begins

Young, rich, and obsessed with death, Harold finds himself changed forever when he meets lively septuagenarian Maude at a funeral.

Second Showing: Rushmore, 1998, 93 minutes, R

Time: 9:15p.m. Doors Open, 9:30p.m. Movie Begins

Rushmore chronicles a year in the life of Max Fischer, a student at one of the finest schools in the country. In the midst of dealing with school, Max and his tycoon mentor become interested in the same woman, triggering a war between the two.

Gourmet taco truck Tac Gos ( will be selling fresh favorites. An assortment of beer & wine will be available for purchase. Attendees who come dressed in theme from the night’s featured films will receive a $5 discounted ticket.

“You’re So Money, Dude!” ~ Saturday, April 16

Ages: 21 years and older

First Showing: Swingers, 1996, 96 minutes, R

Time: 7p.m. Doors Open, 7:30p.m. Movie Begins

Mike came to Hollywood to pursue his career in acting, leaving his girlfriend behind in New York. Instead of stardom, he finds loneliness. After six months of dealing with Mike’s depression, his pal Trent decides it’s time for a change.

Second Showing: The Big Lebowski, 1998, 117 minutes, R

Time: 9:15p.m. Doors Open, 9:30p.m. Movie Begins

The Coen Brothers and their agreeable cast make more fun than sense with this scattered farce about a pothead bowler who is mistaken for a deadbeat philanthropist and drawn into a cluster of kidnappers, nihilists, porn mobsters and Busby Berkeley beauties.

Gourmet eats from BBQ Kalbi ( will be on sale along with specialty movie themed cocktails. Attendees who come dressed in theme from the night’s featured films will receive a $5 discounted ticket.

Bean Bag Film Fest tickets will be sold at the door and in advance. For additional information, please visit:

Monday, March 28, 2011

Jason watches PAUL

And it was reasonably funny. Surprisingly, the antics of Paul the wacky alien wasn't the funniest part. Nor was the team of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who are generally terrific but are really more of the same here as the pair of English sci-fi comic nerds who find Paul. In fact, the funniest parts were the classic sci-fi references (best is the Mos Eisley Cantina song showing up in a country bar) and Kristen Wiig as a Christian fundamentalist who is turned around by Paul and his mind transference powers. And it's not the refutation of Christianity that's funny, it's the idea of someone who has been so against sin her whole life that she doesn't know how to even swear suddenly jumping into sinning so enthusiastically. That's funny.

Running Time: 104 minutes
My Total Minutes: 230,469

Jason watches SUCKER PUNCH

I want to start by explaining to Zack Snyder that if every scene is made to be the most amazing scene ever, then nothing ends up amazing. It's just exhausting. However I know that advice would be lost on Mr. Snyder, and I knew that going in.

As for this particular over-stylized excess, it's the story of a girl Baby Doll (Emily Browning) who is sent to an insane asylum by her abusive stepfather. There she's scheduled for lobotomy, but escapes into a world of her fantasy. In particular, two levels of nested fantasies. In the first, she and her fellow inmates are not in an asylum, they're performers in a burlesque house (and, of course, prostitutes, too). She's the new girl, scheduled for the "high roller" (John Hamm, who of course is also the doctor performing the lobotomy). But even there she escapes into a second level of fantasy, where she and the other girls are an ass-kicking elite fighting force, on a series of missions against various monsters.

Yup, there's a level of stylized hyper-sexuality, and a level of stylized hyper-violence under that. But in the end, back in the world of the insane asylum, she's lobotomized. Zack Snyder has made the perfect metaphor for watching Zack Snyder movies. And it's the audience that got sucker punched. And if that's actually intentional, Zack Snyder is a subversive genius...but I doubt it.

Running Time: 109 minutes
My Total Minutes: 230,365

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum--March 26, 2011

Back at my favorite silent film museum in all of Fremont. It's been too long!

A SAFE INVESTMENT (1915): Mr. Sidney Drew tells his wife she has no head for business, just before he sets out perpetrating a Ponzi scheme, guaranteeing 50% returns on investments in a gold mine. Of course, this won't end well.

BAD BOY (1925): Perhaps my favorite lesser-known silent-era comedian, Charley Chase as Jimmy Jump, trying to make it in his father's tough iron business. It doesn't help that his mother makes him dress in drag and dance like Isadora Duncan for charity galas. Well, it doesn't help his reputation, it does help the audiences funny bone.

Then, as always, a brief intermission

WHEN A MAN'S A PRINCE (1926): A bonus short added, cross-eyed Ben Turpin is a prince, being forced to marry the gigantic princess of Amazonia in order to pay off his family's debt. Too bad he has his eye (at least one of them) on her maid in waiting, a far more lovely (and reasonably sized) woman. Wacky hijinx ensue.

THE HOTTENTOT (1922): And finally, Douglas MacLean plays a man who is afraid of horses, but gets mistaken for a jockey and goes with it for the love of a beautiful woman. Funny and exciting. The title is the name of the horse who's so fierce he throws most any rider. Guess who our hero has to ride in the big race at the end. This film was shown in it's shortened version (40 minutes instead of 60, and with the title THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS) , hence the bonus Ben Turpin short.

Total Running Time (estimated): 90 minutes
My Total Minutes: 230,256

Friday, March 25, 2011

Jason slips into a Vortex and into DIMENSION 5

I haven't been back to the Vortex room in over a month, I think. Back to back to back film festivals will kill me.

Anyway, the dimension was 5, the martinis were 3, the plot was spies with limited time-travel, and the Asians were interchangeable. Ah, the 60's...when no one knew or cared about the differences between Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, etc.

And that's all I've got to say.

Running Time: 91 minutes
My Total Minutes: 230,166

Monday, March 21, 2011

Jason goes to SFIAAFF--Closing Night

And finally, it's over. I've loved every minute of it, but I really need a rest.

I started Sunday with the 3rd I South Asian Shorts program.
KUNJO: A poor refugee girl tells her story to her friend, a privileged school girl. She goes on to win the school playwriting contest, taking credit for the story and endangering their friendship. A story of seeing how the others live.
YOU CAN'T CURRY LOVE: A Bollywood romance between a gay UK man of Indian descent and a hotel desk clerk he meets on a business trip to India. Very funny.
GRANT ST. SHAVING CO.: An old widower visits his daughter in New York. She's too busy for him, but he gets a delivery man to take him around the city, which also takes him back in time to when he visited New York as a newlywed.
RAJU: A debt relief scam is played out by a smooth talking Indian man. But it turns out he's as much a victim as anyone.
VICTOR RAMIREZ ASESINO: Victor Ramirez is a killer for hire. Or maybe he's just a loser kid trying to be a man like his father. Either way, it's hilarious.

Then the next show was SURROGATE VALENTINE, a delightful no-budget comedy from Dave Boyle (WHITE ON RICE) and starring local musician Goh Nakamura, who did a brief set before the movie. Interesting aside, Dave and Goh actually met at SFIAFF and decided to collaborate. And the results are pretty awesome. Goh plays...basically himself. A musician on the road, making a living but crashing on friends' couches from SF to Seattle to LA and back. He's got fans (at least, one psycho-devoted fan), he's got old friends, he's got an old friend he wishes was a girlfriend (Lynn Chen, also from WHITE ON RICE). And now he has an obnoxiously full of himself actor tagging along learning how to play a burn-out musician for a movie. It's shot in black and white, which somehow gives it a more real, stripped down feel. And it's got a brilliant deadpan comedy that provides an even greater reward than the off-the-wall antics of WHITE ON RICE. Excellent, I bought the DVD (which comes with a download code for the soundtrack) right away (since they were selling them in the theater lobby).

Next up was BI, DON'T BE AFRAID, which seems ironically titles since 6 year old Bi doesn't seem to be afraid of anything. A sort of slice-of-life adventure in the life of a Vietnamese family. His mom and aunt are always there for him. His father is always drinking and/or visiting a masseuse. His grandfather has just returned home and is basically lying on his death bed. And Bi runs around everywhere. Among all three worlds, and into the wild grasses where he plays with (or spies on) other kids. A subtle film that deserves a second look.

And finally, I ended the night, and the festival, with Gurinder Chadha's IT'S A WONDERFUL AFTERLIFE. Like the title, the movie is chock-full of classic movie references, starting with a hilarious opening scene referencing SEVEN and culminating in a CARRIE homage (that needed split screen, my only minor quibble with the movie). Mrs. Sethi wants nothing more than to see he daughter Roopi married. But Roopi, while a sweet, wonderful girl, is not the loveliest creature...she's fat. Which isn't a problem if you get to know her, problem is that people belittle and mock her before they even know her. And so Mrs. Sethi has to kill them...with Indian food. And then they come back as ghosts and haunt her. But she eventually wins them over into trying to help Roopi find the right man and get married (if for no other reason than Mrs. Sethi can die in peace and they'll all be released). Yeah, I've given too much away already. It's a murder caper, a ghost story, a pile of movie references, and a hilarious, awesome way to end the festival.

The End.

Total Running Time: 353 minutes
My Total Mintues: 230,075

Jason goes to SFIAAFF--Saturday, March 19

Okay, I've had a few days to rest up (read: do all my day job work that fell to the wayside during my three week film fest marathon), and now it's time to finish writing up the last films I saw over the weekend.

First up Friday was a delightful feature from China, PIANO IN A FACTORY. Chen is a musician, a loving father, an ex-steel worker, and a husband whose marriage is falling apart. His wife is leaving him for a guy who sells fake medicine. He doesn't care, he's through with her, divorce happens, and she can take whatever she wants...except their daughter. Turns out, that's all she wants. And she has the money to bribe he with nice toys, and he doesn't. He can't even pay for her piano lessons, and the fake cardboard piano he mocked up at home doesn't quite cut it (no matter how much he explains that Beethoven played the piano even though he was deaf). So finally, he gets a bunch of old steel-workers to open up the abandoned plant again and make a piano. Scrap wood for the frame, old wire for the strings...he's got the blueprints, what could go wrong. What ensues is comical, endearing, fanciful, surreal, and very non-traditionally musical. Oh yeah, and it's funny as hell. Lots of fun.

And then I caught the shorts program: Life, Interrupted.
LYCHEE THIEVES: A story of the brief, intense lychee season in Hawaii, and how some people go batshit crazy possessive over it.
MY NAME IS MOHAMMED: Mohammed is a 9 year old boy in an Iraqi refugee camp. Prematurely mature, since he has to buy his mom's medicine while watching after his little sister.
ROOM #11: Based on the closing of a low-rent apartment building in NY Chinatown, and the upheaval of the evictions around it.
MADE IN CHINA: A Shanghai punk rock documentary. American/UK licks on distinctly Chinese songs. Awesome.
PINK CHADDIS: A documentary about the violent 2009 attack on women in a pub in Mangalore (near Bangalore), India. The attackers were religious extremists defending the "Hindu-ness" of India. In response, a non-violent campaign started to send them pink underwear with messages on them. I'll try to put this as nicely as possible. I'm not one to reflexively judge other cultures, and I'm sure the Hindu religion and the vast majority of its practitioners are wonderful, peaceful, loving people. But men who think it's appropriate to beat women (especially in public, and especially in the name of religious or cultural purity) should be raped up the ass with a splintering stick until they bleed to death. Yeah...that was as nicely as possible.

And that was my Saturday at SFIAAFF. I didn't stick around for the late movies because I had to go watch the San Jose Earthquakes open the season with a soaking wet, horribly refereed, frustrating 1-0 loss even though they outplayed their opponents. I was one of the few who stuck with it until the end, and although the result was frustrating it was good to see my soccer family again.

Total Running Time: 186 minutes
My Total Minutes: 229,722

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Jason goes to SFIAAFF--San Jose Opening Night Gala

Celebrating 10 years in the South Bay. How did they ever survive the 19 years without it?

Oh, and when I arrived at the Montgomery Theatre for the show, I ran into my old film buddy, Phil, who now has a film blog, and has already written a much better review of the night than I will. Welcome to the blogging world, Phil! Time to start parlaying that into press passes.

Anyway, the program started with the obligatory thank yous to the sponsors. We love our sponsors at CAAM. Then an adorable dance performance by the Chhandam Youth Dance Company, a dance school operated by Pandit Chitresh Das.

By amazing coincidence (or not), the movie, UPAJ, was also about Pandit Chitresh Das, master of the classical Indian dance technique of Kathak. The lazy way to describe Kathak is to say you can't describe it, you have to see it in person. So allow me to say that I can't describe it, you have to see it in person. Very expressive, with furiously flying feet covered in bells making a joyous, celebratory noise. So it's completely natural to team that up with tap dance. Or at least, it seems like a perfect fit when 63 year old Chitresh Das is teamed up with 30 year old Jason Samuels Smith, a rising tap sensation from Hell's Kitchen. Together they form India Jazz Suites, which...can't be described, it has to be seen. It's not fusion--Das never does tap, and Smith never does Kathak, but it's like they have an amazing wordless conversation on stage, sharing and echoing rhythm and joyful expression.

While I thought the movie captures this pretty well (including their backgrounds and friendly relationship backstage), the real treat that totally blew me away was a brief dance performance by Das and Smith live on stage. Wow,! While watching them, it's hard not to be hypnotized by their feet. But if you are blessed to be able to see them live, and are in the front row (like I always am!) pull your eyes away from their feet and check out their eyes. There's some amazing, crazy passion going on there. I'm not a dancer, but I believe if you're not seeking (or have found) something in your life that makes you feel what I saw in their eyes, you're not living. For me, watching great movies (and telling others about them) is pretty close.

Running Time: 40 minutes (wow, the movie was pretty short, but the whole show was more than worth the price of admission)
My Total Minutes: 229,536

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Jason goes to SFIAAFF--Thursday, March 17

Which is St. Patrick's day. That's right, while everyone else is getting drunk on green beer, my tradition is watching Asian movies. That's just how I roll (not my fault the Irish Film Festival isn't schedules for St. Patrick's Day).

It's also the last night in San Francisco, but I'll get an extra fest fix in San Jose. As it is, I skipped the closing night gala (I'll see the film SURROGATE VALENTINE in San Jose, and didn't want to shell out the money for the party). Instead I just saw one program of shorts: Futurestates. This is a series produced by ITVS. SFIAAFF played a sampling of their first season last year, which I loved. And this program is a sampling of their second season. Awesome shorts using ideas of the near future to illuminate issues of the present.

BEHOLDER: In the future, Real Americans will live in a domed community called Red Estates, where babies are genetically engineered, homosexuality is engineered out, and everyone speaks of the horrors of 'The Coast.' A politician named Bobby Aryana and his wife have a little problem.
EXPOSURE: In the future, the government will deploy squads of 'contagions'--people infected with a benign form of a deadly virus--to infect the general population into health. There will be activists who believe this is a bad idea and the virus will mutate.
THAT WHICH ONCE WAS: In the future, there will be several 'Environmental Refugees,' like Vicente, a little boy who survived a tsunami in Bangladesh. He will apprentice with an ice sculptor, a man whose work by it's very nature melts away. So the only things of value are memories.
DIGITAL ANTIQUITIES: In the future, you'll have to go to an antique shop to read a data CD. Actually, that's pretty close to the present.
THE SPRING OF SORROW: In the future, there will be very little water. One little girl will scavenge water to save her sister.
WORKER DRONE: In the future...this movie will play. But this time I was definitely awake, I paid attention, and I swear it didn't.

Total Running Time: 80 minutes
My Total Minutes: 228,996

Jason goes to SFIAAFF--Wednesday, March 16

Another day, another two movies.

First up, the short SLAYING THE DRAGON RELOADED. It's a brief, densely packed look at stereotypes of Asian women in Hollywood. It's really an update of a longer documentary SLAYING THE DRAGON made back in 1988 (note: I haven't seen the original). Partially it's an update for younger students (and it is intended for classroom viewing) who don't know the older movies, and partially it's to show that not much has improved. The best part is early on showing clips of older movies side by side with clips from recent movies, showing that portrayals haven't evolved at all. But to play devil's advocate, I wondered how much was just an example of a greater dearth of good writing in Hollywood, and it's just more glaring when filtered through a minority (especially minority woman) viewpoint. Movies got dinged both for stereotypes (either submissive, servile Asian women, or dangerous, hyper-sexualized dragon ladies) and for avoiding all elements of race (in essence, making every culture "white" regardless of skin color). It's a fine line to walk between the two--to acknowledge and portray race and cultural backgrounds but not fall into stereotypes. And in defense of bad writers everywhere (and I feel I'm qualified to defend us), good writing is hard! That's why there's so little of it.

Next up was the feature documentary (although still brief, at just 58 minutes) ANNA MAY WONG: IN HER OWN WORDS. I love Anna May, especially since I've become more of a silent film aficionado while watching films and volunteering at the Niles Film Museum (where I saw TOLL OF THE SEA last May). I can confirm that A) that movie is still powerful, and B) she still has a ton of fans.

As for the movie, it was fascinating and moving. Partly a celebration of her accomplishments, partly a lament at the racist times that didn't allow her to express her full potential often enough (particularly heartbreaking is her unsuccessful campaign to star in THE GOOD EARTH). The great treat here is that it's based mostly on Wong's own correspondence (hence the, "IN HER OWN WORDS" in the title). And those words, and her cabaret act, are recreated by actress Doan Ly, who was a treat. If it's too late to give Anna May Wong the career she deserved, we can at least celebrate the career she had. And the world needs more Anna May Wong impersonators.

So then I caught the excellent but depressing tale of a North Korean defector, DANCE TOWN. Jung-Nim Rhee lives in North Korea with her doting husband, who has connections to bring beauty products and adult videos from South Korea. Unfortunately, a neighbor rats them out, and the have to flee. Or at least, she flees, gets to a Chinese boat that her husband has arranged for her, and defects to South Korea. He promises to join her later, but it's pretty clear that he was caught and won't be joining her until the afterlife. In South Korea, she has a hell of a time. First the interview is unexpectedly harsh, then suddenly they're nice, set her up in an apartment with a stipend, and welcome her as a South Korean citizen. But that's not all it's cracked up to be. She has little support system and works in a laundry. She's moved from one apartment to another, along with an elderly woman and a crippled man (an excellent cross-section of the people society would like to keep out of the spotlight). She has a couple of overly-aggressive suitors, but is basically all alone without her husband. An excellently made, very sad movie that certainly doesn't paint South Korea in a very flattering light.

And that was Wednesday at SFIAAFF

Total Running Time:182 minutes
My Total Minutes: 229,416

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Jason goes to SFIAAFF--Tuesday, March 15

And please indulge me, I must start with a little rant about the new audience award voting protocol. For as long as I've been going, SFIAAFF has followed the same protocol as the majority of festivals--rate each film on a scale of 1 (unwatchable crap) to 5 (unforgettable masterpiece). Now I have my beef with reducing all the complicated emotions and reactions I have to a mere number, but I'm generally okay with that (after all, I have this blog to explore and explain my reaction). But this year they've changed to simply voting "Yes" or "No." I suppose I could just drop a racist tweet and be done with it. But the question on the ballots is not, "Did you like it? Yes or No." The ballot specifically asks, "Should it win [the audience award]? Yes or No." Those are very different questions. I can like many (even most) movies, but only my favorite should win. Therefore I should really only answer "yes" for my favorite, and "no" for all others. Problem is, I won't know my favorite until the end of the festival. All I can state early on is my favorite so far. Later on in the festival I'm sure I will vote "no" on a movie I liked more than one I voted "yes" for, simply because I saw an even better movie in between. And that's wrong, it biases the voting towards movies that play earlier in the festival. At least for me, but maybe I'm over-thinking it. I'd be interested in seeing if that's true for others. Hypothesis: movies that play multiple times will have better scores earlier in the festival. Since I don't have access to the ballots, I humbly ask (but don't expect) someone with access to check on that and report back to me.

Anyway, on to the movies, starting with the documentary OPEN SEASON. In November of 2004, Chai Vang, a truck driver and hunter in Wisconsin, shot 8 white hunters, killing 6. His (unsuccessful) legal defense was self-defense, that they were harassing him as he was trying to leave their property (after he unknowingly trespassed), and that one of them shot first (an unproven point). The documentary is a brisk 57 minutes, but packs a heck of a lot in there from both sides. Charges of racism, denials, reaction of the Hmong community, questions of the fairness of the trial (a media-saturated venue, an all white jury), etc. But ultimately it lets the audience decide. Or in my case, it lets the audience be a little overwhelmed and bewildered. Nothing (short of the white hunters shooting first--and at him, not just a warning shot) justifies the murder of 6 people and attempted murder of 2 more. On the other hands, the stories of racism both before and after the incident paint a picture that this sort of incident was inevitable, it was just a question of when. Like I said, the movie is brief, and there's a lot of low-def footage that isn't that great, but easily forgivable. But it is pretty remarkable how much the movie throws at you in just 57 minutes. And it's remarkable how they managed to get extensive comments from all sides in the story. So often these documentaries have a point of view that's determined by who will talk to the filmmakers, and maybe they only have one token dissenting view. It's refreshing to see a documentary that has innumerable interviews from both points of view--something that pretty much all documentary filmmakers claim they want, but so few achieve.

Then after a leisurely beer (I'm finally recovered enough from the Cinequest closing party Saturday night to drink again), I caught the shorts program Play/House. The theme being family life, I guess.
FIRECRACKER: The struggles of an Indian in Texas trying to raise the money to bring his family over to be with him.
ANDY: I saw this at Indiefest. A little boy plays in the mall, helps his mom try on makeup, and has an odd encounter in the bathroom.
ONCE UPON A ROOFTOP: A documentary look at the rooftop shanties and impoverished people living there in Hong Kong.
WITHHOLDING: A double tragedy strikes a family, as an actress arrives at the hospital where her dad is recovering from a heart attack and receives a phone call delivering more bad news. She just has to find a way to deliver the news without further devastating her mother.
TOP SPIN: Ariel Hsing totally kicks ass! She's a 14 (now 15) ping pong phenom, on a mission to crush the competition and be the first American girl to make a living at it.

Total Running Time: 134 minutes
My Total Minutes: 229,234

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Jason goes to SFIAAFF--Monday, Mar 14

Which I think is day 5. Obviously I've been at Cinequest instead, but the SF International Asian American Film Festival can be happy with having as much of me as I can give. Anyway, 2 movies Monday night.

I started the festival with a Japanese movie, ABRAXAS. Jonen is a punk rocker turned Buddhist monk and quite possibly completely insane. He totally freezes up giving a career day speech at school, and babbles about how there is no future and shrimps molt for life. It's quite a scandal amongst the small-town gossips. But he discusses it with his master, and decides he wants to sing again. As in put on a rock show. See, the world is full of noise, but pleasing noise is called music. By embracing your noise you turn it into music. Well, his master is totally behind him when the plan is to do a show in Tokyo, but when he decides it has to be in their small town, there's just a little hesitation. The story is well put together, and not so much about the plot exactly but using it as a point to explore past and future, life and death, loyalty, family, and just about anything else. But all done with a combination of sincerity and breezy humor that makes it all very enjoyable. An I suppose if your nature is that of a punk rocker, the Zen thing is to be a punk rocker.

Then I caught one film (the only I'll manage to catch) in their Southeast Asian horror retrospective. That movie was AFFLICTION (YANGGAW), from the Philippines. It starts with a portrait of a poor but loving family, their trials, their volleyball rivalry with their neighbors, a poor but pleasant rural life. Then there's an incident when a thief is nearly beaten to death, and then the family's daughter Amor is afflicted with a poison of the soul that turns her into a demon. But, of course, the family defends and protects her, for as long as they can. Highly melodramatic (especially the ending), but also effective as a horror film. It's cheaply made, and poorly lit and shot (or perhaps just poorly projected on the digital copy they had), and drags at times. I can't say it was a really bad film, but I was hoping for something better.

And so my Asianfest (SFIAFF, whatever you wanna call it) begins...

Total Running Time: 197 minutes
My Total Minutes: 229,100

Monday, March 14, 2011

Jason apologizes to the Cinequest movies he didn't see

I would've liked to have seen them all, but until they take my advice and make Cinequest a full month instead of just 2 weeks, it's impossible. So since it's shorter to list the movies I didn't see, here they are. The features:


Also, BI, DON'T BE AFRAID, which I have tickets to see at SFIAFF, and the following movies for which I have screeners but haven't watched:


And the shorts:

I'm sure those were all the best movies at Cinequest, and I'm only fooling myself into thinking I saw the best ones. Someday I might have a chance to see these, too. Again, I'm sorry I couldn't see everything.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Jason goes to Cinequest--Encore Day

But wait, there's more! I know, I already wrote up "Closing Night" but Cinequest doesn't end there. Last year they started Encore Day, where jury winners and audience award contenders get an extra showing. Like last year, attendance is a little light. Everyone is hungover from the party the night before, and it's just a bunch of bleary-eyed celluloid addicts dragging themselves around for one last fix. Yup, that's me. Crack addicts don't stop smoking crack just because they're exhausted to the point of physical collapse, and neither should I.

First up, DREAMING NICARAGUA, a charming documentary about extreme poverty in the third world. Wait, did I say "charming" and "poverty"? Yes...and I meant it. Jafet, an arts teacher, travels the area and inspires children to express themselves. Highlight is clearly Nauri, who wants to host a television show so she interviews her neighbors. There's something weird about such an innocent child interviewing women about the difficulty of being a single mother living in poverty (a very, very common occurrence). The other children are adorable, too, and the movie is deliciously and colorfully shot, showing beauty can exist anywhere, certainly uncorrelated with wealth.

Then I checked out VILLAGE WITHOUT WOMEN. In a tiny little village in Serbia, there's just a few guys (3 brothers and an old neighbor) and no women. Also no running water, but lets focus on the important things. The Serbian women have moved away, so maybe Albanian women can fill in. The movie follows them through their days (lots of shaving scenes, I have to assume director Srdjan Sarenac just thinks shaving is enormously cinematic) and through their efforts to import an Albanian wife. It's a funny, weird look at a funny, weird spot on earth and a funny, weird way to live. Oh, and the ending scene, although completely out of nowhere, was totally awesome.

Next up, yet another documentary, IRENA SENDLER: IN THE NAME OF THEIR MOTHERS. Irena Sendler was a social worker in Nazi-occupied Warsaw. There, her and a small group of women outsmarted the entire Nazi regime, smuggling Jews (mostly children) out of the ghetto and into safe houses. Overall, they saved some 2,500 Jewish children, and after the war she was rewarded...with decades of harassment by the communist authorities. Just a truly remarkable woman. As for the movie...this is the kind of documentary that has such a great protagonist that as long as you don't screw it up, you'll have a good movie. Mary Skinner has created a great movie, brisk (only about an hour long) but in depth and moving.

Then I caught MAKE A MOVIE LIKE SPIKE. Two friends--Luis and Ronald--are joining the Marines. They've been friends practically forever, and Luis wants to be a filmmaker, like his idol Spike Lee. So he's documenting their adventures as they prepare to leave for boot camp and then Afghanistan. A vacation in Cancun (they can't let Afghanistan be their first time outside of the U.S.), a night of debauchery in L.A., and lots and lots of mugging for the camera. But somewhere around all the mugging and horseplay, there's a real compelling story of friendship and war, and things get disconcertingly serious once they're actually in battle.

And finally, I ended the night with ROSA MORENA, a wonderfully made story of generally good people doing something morally questionable. Thomas is a wealthy architect with baby fever. He wants to adopt, but he can't. You see, in his home of Denmark a single gay man can't adopt. Of course, he could adopt a baby in Brazil, where he has friends living there and working for a charity organization. But you know what's easier than going through all the legal hurdles? Just making an arrangement with a pregnant woman to adopt her child. So he meets Maria, beautiful, poor, pregnant, and already has more kids than she can care for. They make an arrangement, where she'll declare that he's the father, and she'll give up any claims on the baby, and he'll take her back to Denmark. Of course, he has to stay with her and make sure she behaves (no alcohol) during the pregnancy. And for the health of beautiful newborn Rosa, she really should breastfeed for the first 3 months. In fact, the whole situation is beginning to look disconcertingly like a normal family, not just a business arrangement. It's a hot-button moral issue, but the magic is how it's treated with such a delicate, light touch that you sympathize with everyone involved, even when they're doing things that are objectionable.

And that's it. I'm done. Between the hangover and the exhaustion, no matter how much fun I had I am sooooo ready for Cinequest to be I can get to the SF International Asian American Film Festival.

Total Running Time: 374 minutes
My Total Minutes: 228,903

Jason goes to Cinequest--Closing Night

Okay, lots of movies to get through from the weekend. Let's jump right in

First up, WITH LOVE...FROM THE AGE OF REASON. Sophie Marceau stars as Margaret (changed from her birth name, the more provincial Marguerite), a hard-charging take-no-prisoners career woman about to celebrate her 40th birthday. And as a present she gets a package, delivered by an old notary. It's a letter, or rather a series of letters, from herself, at age 7. As a precocious child, she knew that 7 was the age of reason and 40 is the silly age, where she cares about stuff she shouldn't care about. If you can buy the conceit (and it's a pretty big one), that a seven year old could be wise enough to write all those letters to her future self, then it's a wonderful story of remembering your inner child, reconnecting with your dreams, and rediscovering what's really important. If you don't buy the conceit, you're a cynical fucking bastard. Normally, I'm a cynical fucking bastard, but I have to admit this is the first movie at Cinequest that actually made me cry. I don't know if it's just the sleep deprivation and constant onslaught of film had weakened me, but this totally broke through my defenses. Anyway, in the interest of science, I call on any 7 year olds reading this to a) don't tell your parents I cursed earlier, and b) write letters to yourself at 40, then open them 33 years later. E-mail me and let me know how that goes. I'm sure my response will be..."what the hell are you babbling about!?"

So then I caught Shorts Program 3: Lost and Found. I actually saw all the shorts programs except for the student shorts and one of the 3D programs (and there's some shorts that played with features I missed). That's more than I usually do, but the shorts have been pretty kick-ass this year.
PROTECT THE NATION: A story of a young boy, a good Samaritan, and xenophobic attacks in South Africa.
THE GAME: Little boys play a game on the beach in Italy. Whoever's coin attracts a bug first, he gets all the other kids coins. Innocent play, with just a reminder at the end of a not-so-innocent bigger world.
SON OF NONE: Adventures of a Liberian orphan chasing a goat.
NORTH ATLANTIC: A pilot off course, and the air traffic controller who talks to him. Based on a true, and very moving, story.
ALMARITSU: A young boy apprentices with a junk collector, and makes the world more amazing, beautiful, and whimsical.
HANGNAIL: A man and a woman have an argument in the bathroom--she in the shower, he on the toilet. Painful secrets are exposed. And as a technical achievement, it's an impressive accomplishment--12 minutes in a single shot, on 35 mm. Very impressive.

Then I caught the crowd-pleasing and amusing young love story from Norway, THE LIVERPOOL GOALIE. Jo is a timid little boy who survives school by doing bully Tom Erik's homework. And then a new girl comes to school, Mari, who is just as good as he is at math, plus she's a soccer player. So he pretends to be a little tougher than he really is to try and impress her, and of course he fails miserably right up until the point where he succeeds. Stories of first young loves are kind of a staple of film (and especially film festivals), so it's really tempting to dismiss this as an enjoyable trifle but 'seen it before.' But the fact is that just doesn't matter, I've seen it before but it's still well done, enjoyable, and still fresh.

And finally we ended the night with SOUL SURFER, a movie that I feel bad about not liking more. Bethany Hamilton has certainly lived an inspiring life (although she's barely past 20, so there's a lot more left to do). She grew up in Hawaii with surfer parents, spent so much time in the water that her mom joked that she's a mermaid, and dreamed of being a professional surfer. And then a shark bit off her arm. And she was rushed to the hospital, lost 60% of her blood, but survived and even returned to surfing. She was an active Christian to begin with, but after a brief scene of shaken faith, she goes on a journey that reaffirms her faith and finds a greater purpose in being an inspiration of triumph over adversity--something far more important than being a surfer.

Okay, so I said I wanted to like this movie more. Fact is, as an atheist I was uncomfortable with all the religious stuff. I know that's my problem, and that really is Bethany's character, so it would've been totally false to keep Jesus out of the movie. But there's so much of it there that it felt it would fit in better in a revivalist tent than in a cineplex (BTW, I hope this movie is shown to Christian youth groups, and it inspires them. That's their audience, not me). Beyond that, it's a pretty standard sports movie + triumph over adversity. There's the doubt, there's the learning to do everything with only one arm, there's the realignment of perspective, there's the sport training montage, there's even the bitchy rival villain (who's really okay, since she's the only one who doesn't treat Bethany any differently, and gets redeemed at the end). I don't know exactly how closely everything followed the actual events. If they followed real events very faithfully, all I can say is, "Stupid reality! Stop being so cliche!"

So after the movie Bethany Hamilton received the Life of a Maverick award and star AnnaSophia Robb received the Emerging Maverick award. Seeing them both on stage was kinda weird--AnnaSophia is about half the size of Bethany...and she (AnnaSophia) has two arms. Talk about breaking the illusion!

I wonder how many people applauding afterwards were snarky assholes like me thinking, 'Look what I can do. I can clap because I have two hands!'

Okay, enough of that. As I said, given her life story I really wish I liked this movie more.

So then I went to the after party and indulged my inner cynical bastard with about a metric ton of hard liquor and hung out with all the cool kids table at the after party. The highlight was chatting with Kurt Kuenne, who hasn't had a movie in Cinequest for a couple of years, but as far as the CQrati are concerned is still a totally bitchin' rock star from Mars. I got the scoop about his new feature film SHUFFLE, which sounds awesome (but no spoilers here) and is looking to premiere this summer. Hopefully it'll come back around to Cinequest next year, or at least play somewhere in the Bay Area.

Total Running Time: 410 minutes
My Total Minutes: 228,529

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 11

The pen-penultimate day. That is, penultimate to the closing night gala, which itself is penultimate to the encore day (which one might describe as post-ultimate?) Umm...I got nothing, let's review the movies.

First up was QUESTION IN DETAILS, which was a surprising little treat. A man and a woman--Zoli and Eszti--meet and have one date. Or part of a date. They quickly realize they're not meant for each other, and so they just start talking like real people. They do go back to her place, just to continue talking, and her brother shows up and joins the conversation. And I can't really describe this more without giving away spoilers. It's hard to describe what's so surprising and thrilling about watching three people speak in one room--at least not without giving anything away. And certainly independent film fans have seen "3 people in one room talking" fail plenty of times. Just trust me, it works this time.

Then I popped over to the California for a nearly packed house to see NOSFERATU with Dennis James on the mighty Wurlitzer. I've already described at least one part of why I love this movie so much. And yeah, it's still awesome. Still quite possibly my favorite movie ever. And only better with Dennis James rocking the score. Awesome.

Then I had to book it back to the Camera 12 to get into TOGETHERNESS SUPREME just as the opening credits were rolling. Kamau is an artist living in Kibera, East Africa's largest shantytown. He has talent, but he's under the thumb of his father--the drunk landlord whom everyone hates. He takes care of a little boy CJ who was hit by a car, heroically running him to the hospital. CJ is fine, and Kamau meets Alice, a pretty little nurse and pastor's daughter. Meanwhile Otieno enlists Kamau into the Orange Democratic Movement, a hopeful, youth-based campaign for reform (of course, Kamau keeps it a secret that his father is from the tribe of greedy bastards supposedly ruining the country). And then Otieno, one suave, charming guy, catches his eye on Alice as well. A love triangle, a tribal conflict triangle, and political intrigue, all leading up to an explosive election day. It's an exciting story, and a very personal one with fully fleshed out, flawed but sympathetic characters (based on real people and real events). And it's shot beautifully.

And finally, after a couple of drinks at the packed Maverick Meetup, I caught the midnight screening of Shorts Program 5: Mindbenders. Yeah, fucked-up movies!
41: An Audio tour of a museum, with a little TMI.
BY A HAIR: A hilarious (or should I say "hair-larious?" Answer: No I shouldn't, that's stupid) story of a guy who wakes up with a hairy pimple, tries to tweeze out the hair, but it just keeps coming. Kinda reminded me of Don Hertzfeldt's WISDOM TEETH.
INTERVIEW: Okay, I admit I was drifting in and out of consciousness for this one. And investigator interviews a psycho...I think?
LANDPARTIE: Awesome POV shot of a zombie invasion, through the eyes of a guy who just got bit.
OUT OF NOWHERE: I had a weird sense of déjà vu watching this. Repetitions and variations, where people don't seem to remember what happened before.
THE STORY OF MY LIFE: If you meet someone who knows you from birth and can recap all your secrets (even the ones you didn't know) in 5 minutes...look out.
LAVAN: There is only one right way to shave that prisoner. Learn it!! A story about mental torture.

Total Running Time: 381
My Total Minutes: 228,119

Friday, March 11, 2011

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 10

Now the end is in sight. 3 more days (including encore day)

First up, POLIGAMY, a hilarious is inconsequential trifle about love and commitment. Andras and Lilla are a couple about to get married and have a baby. They're in love, but of course Andras has some stereotypical anxiety about commitment and (as he confesses to his buddy) he wishes maybe he'd played the field more. Well, the next morning he wakes up and Lilla is a completely different woman. Really, really a new woman. Like a total stranger--different look, different personality, different life. Only she's still named Lilla, she remembers a life with him, and loves him. His friend only knows the new Lilla, and thinks he's a little crazy. His therapist (who previously had told him he's her most normal patient) also has no explanation. So after freaking out for a while, he decides to just go with it. He even figures out the rules--each new Lilla sticks around until they have sex, then the next morning they turn into a new one. Kinda sucks, if he gets one he likes he can only keep her around through abstinence. Things take a few more weird turns until a charming ending. High concept fun, and I suppose there's a facile moral in there about how sticking with one true love is better than variety. But the gimmick is so out there that it really can't be about more than the fun of the gimmick.

Next up, a totally kickass zombie movie that takes place in West Africa, THE DEAD. Gotta start with this--these are the classic, slow, Romero zombies. You know, correct zombies. American military engineer Lt. Brian Murphy fails to get out on the last evacuation flight, so he's left behind with hordes of shambling zombies and one other survivor--a local man, on a journey to a military base to find his son, who was evacuated.

Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING dead was groundbreaking in 1968 as one of the first horror films to have an African-American protagonist. So it's completely appropriate that the Ford brothers have brought the genre back to Africa, although a hole lot has changed in the meantime. There's also a standard Romero rule that "The zombies are us" and the real villains are the survivors who fail to work together. From that standpoint I could see THE DEAD as actually a remarkably optimistic movie--survivors work together very well, at least after some initial gun-pointing and confirming that no one's bit. A lot has changed since 1968, particularly in race relations, and so now you can make a movie with one white protagonist and hordes of black zombies and not have it be all about race. Instead, it's all about making a kick-ass, exciting genre flick.

And then the final show started with the short, BASE EMOTIONS. Bias alert, it was made by my friend Vijay Rajan. But it's not a Puppymeat Production, so I think I can be fair. The title comes from the Maori belief (at least, as explained in the opening) that there are three base emotions--Lust, Despair, and Fear--and all other emotions are combinations of them. All three are explored in a one-night stand that's a mix of fucking and arguing. Interesting idea, and well executed as a first effort out of school (he actually took 5 years to finish because everyone sort of went on with their non-film lives). As far as criticism, he acknowledged that his sound mix is not complete. I'd add that it's a little over-written. The dialog is more what a writer would put on a page, not what two people would say to each other in a hotel room. But still, an interesting effort that surprised me and makes me want to see Vijay make more movies.

And finally I ended the day with SENTIMENT OF THE FLESH, a story about medical imaging. Sexy, sexy medical imaging. FYI, that's a little close to home for me, since my day job is in medical imaging. A radiologist falls in love with a student of medical illustration. She went in for an X-ray complaining of lower back pain. He thinks she's perfect, she's convinced there's something wrong with her. Lots of sexy times, then kind of slow, then a totally fucked up ending that's not for the squeamish. Damn, this movie is really, really French.

And that's all I have to say about that. Bring on the final weekend of Cinequest!

Total Running Time: 297 minutes
My Total Minutes: 227,738

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Jason explicates NOSFERATU

In all the excitement of seeing so many new movies at Cinequest, I've almost lost sight of my favorite old movie, playing Friday night at the California, with the always awesome Dennis James at the organ: NOSFERATU

Anyone who has seen it can tell you about the amazing visuals, the creepy tone, and how it's the first (surviving) version of Dracula on screen (with names changed in a failed attempt to avoid copyright issues). But I just want to add my interpretation (and I'm probably not the first with this take) to the mix in hopes that thinking about this will give anyone who sees it at least a more interesting viewing experience, whether you agree with it or not.

The key to understanding NOSFERATU is to sympathize with the female lead (something that's pretty rare even in contemporary films). In particular, the key is to realize that while Thomas and Ellen Hutter are married, it is an unconsummated marriage. In the opening scene we see Ellen sitting at home, bored, playing with her We then see her husband Thomas, skipping along like an idiot man-child. He picks some flowers and brings them to her. Although we can't hear the conversation, I imagine it goes something like this:

Thomas: "Guess what, dear?"
Ellen: "We're finally going to do it!?"
Thomas: "No! I picked you some flowers!"

She's visibly disappointed at receiving flowers. What kind of woman is disappointed at receiving flowers? Answer: One who is tired of his bullcrap. But she thinks fast and makes up an excuse about being sad because the flowers will now die. Nearly the identical exchange occurs minutes later when he explains he's going to Transylvania on business.

In Transylvania, of course, he runs across Count Orlok, the vampire (and the physical manifestation of the unfetter male id). As Orlok attacks Hutter, Ellen feels something and reaches Orlok, not to her husband. Through her longing, she brings Orlok, and all his destruction, to the city.

Ellen waits for her lover to return. She waits by the seashore. Her husband is coming by land, it's Orlok who is coming by sea. Orlok is now (psychically) her love, not her husband. Unfortunately, he brings sickness, death, destruction (he is, after all, the unfettered male id).

In order to defeat the Vampire, Ellen must make a sacrifice. She must give herself to him, keeping him "up all night" and "engorged with blood" until the "cock crows" thereby killing him. It's a metaphor....

NOSFERATU is a story of the female libido--the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems.

Enjoy NOSFERATU at Cinequest, 7:00 Friday night.

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 9

So guess what I did Wednesday night? That's right, I watched some movies!

But first, let me just start by saying my last words (I promise) on hating SAMUEL BLEAK. I have something of a reputation for liking too many movies, so it's pretty unusual for me to have such a violently negative reaction. People have challenged me that while it's flawed, even horribly awful, it's not the worst movie in the history of Cinequest, or even this year's Cinequest. NEW YORK DECALOGUE, for example, has inspired violent reactions. Reactions I understand and sympathize with, even if I don't completely agree. I also have a friend who refuses to ever return to Cinequest because her first experience was watching CANARY. I understand, that movie can be frustrating and annoying, but it's not "bad."

You see there's a difference between a "bad" movie and just "not my kind of movie." If you're allergic to aspirin, that doesn't mean aspirin is a bad pain reliever, it just means you shouldn't take it. On the other hand, if you sold me a hammer with instructions to hit myself on the head until your pain goes away, that's a bad pain reliever.

CANARY opens with 10 minutes of un-subtitled, banal Russian dialog. That can bore people, frustrate people, piss people off. But it (the scene, if not the reactions) is absolutely intentional, and all those reactions are completely valid. If it pisses you off, fine. You can think it failed on your terms, but it succeeded on its own.

SAMUEL BLEAK failed on its own terms. It was supposed to be an entertaining, inspiring movie, but it was full of too many emotionally false, groan-inducing scenes to be either.

With that said, I wish it luck. I am not trying to keep people from seeing SAMUEL BLEAK.
Hating a movie is way better than not caring about it one way or the other. The worst thing you can say about a movie is, "Ehhh...I guess it was okay." I hope people have seen it (and continue to see it) because they wanted to know what I thought was so awful. I hope it has a great life as a cult classic bad movie, with drunk college students shouting one-liners and laughing at it. And if that's not what Dustin Schuetter wants for a legacy, then I hope his next film is better. I'll see it.

And now to the movies I saw Wednesday, starting with the short BABY. It starts out really fascinating. A woman sees some guys steal a girl's cell phone. She confronts them, but they brush her off. And one of them follows her onto the subway (or was it a bus, I forget), looking all menacing and trying to talk to her. And then...I fell asleep. I was out for maybe 5-10 minutes (it's a 25 minute short), and when I woke up I had no idea where I was. I mean, I knew I was at Cinequest, I knew I was in the Camera 12, but I had completely forgotten what movie I was seeing. I've dozed off before, but I've never been that disoriented. It was kinda scary. Oh, and as far as I know BABY was pretty good.

That was the lead in to the feature, THE SNOW CAVEMAN, a documentary about Sverre Nokling, a man who has lived in the wilds of the Norwegian mountains for two decades. He stashes supplies all over the mountains, bathes in streams (in the summer) or public bathrooms (in the winter), and shelters in caves he has found or dug all over the mountain. As an aside, I liked him talking about how a dome is the best structure for a snow cave--I learned that from my Boy Scout days in Alaska. He's got a sense of humor, he likes to sing, and he likes solitude and nature. He doesn't come off as crazy per se, but he's certainly different. The major conflict is with his mother, who loves him and knows he's a good boy, but is heartbroken over his rejection of society. So when she dies, she wills him her apartment, but only on the condition that he lives there or sells it to pay for a different place to live. So he is faced with a tough decision. He's an interesting subject, interesting enough to carry a movie that's very light on any sort of narrative flow.

Then I caught, MEDAL OF HONOR, a clever little treat from Romania. Ion I. Ion is an old man, pretty much living out his final days. He's got a wife...who barely speaks to him. He's got a in Canada, who he hasn't seen in 7 years. He's got a grandson, who he's never seen, and who doesn't even speak Romanian. And then he gets a letter from the Ministry of Defense telling him he's being awarded a medal for an act of bravery in WWII, over 50 years ago. He can't even remember what he did, so he politely asks for an explanation, but enjoys his medal anyway. In the meantime, he studies his old war letters, figures out it must have been for a battle where his squad blew up a gun, and he starts living with a little more zeal. Turns out, having a piece of metal on your chest manages to put a little more pride in his heart, and people give him quite a bit more respect. Too bad the Ministry follows up his request by discovering it was a typo, the medal was meant for Ion J. Ion. Oops! It's an excellent, funny, poignant movie with an excellent performance by Victor Rebenjuic as Ion.

And then I saw the epochal cinematic event of our lives, the moment when everything changed, the world premiere of...


By far, the best moments come at the 00:00:25 mark:

and the 00:01:34 mark:

Okay, in all seriousness I'm probably a little too emotionally involved in the success of this movie to review it fairly. On the other hand, I was not at all involved in the making of this. I just gave my friend Jarrod Whaley some money to put my name on the credits, I didn't have any creative input (which I think technically makes me the best producer ever). For me to take credit for this movie would be like taking credit for a friend's baby when all I did was poke a hole in his condom. Sure, it might not have happened without me, but that doesn't mean it has any of my DNA.

With that said, I loved it. I'm proud as all hell to have my name on it. And it was thrilling being in the audience hearing people laugh at the right moments. And here's a link to a much better (paid, even!) writer who isn't connected to the production, so you can trust him! See, it's not just me (and fellow producer Cynthia Corral) who liked it!

And that was Wednesday at Cinequest.

Total Running Time: 278
My Total Minutes: 227,441

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 8

Another day, another 3 movies.

First up, we started with the short DAISY CUTTER, a girl living in a war torn region picks flowers, in what might be the most fucked-up short I've seen at Cinequest. Of course, I haven't seen the Mindbenders program yet.

And that was the lead in to THE BLIND, which will now be the movie I cite as an example of how I can like romantic movies (I have been accused of not liking romances). The opening voice over explains how Marcus and Kate are a great romantic couple. And what unfolds is then the slowest, most passionless story ever. Their lives fall apart, and they seemingly aren't meant for each other. But they are. They really, really are. Because in all relationships, one is meant to love, and one is meant to be loved, and they have the perfect love. If this isn't a joke, it's my favorite romance ever. If it is a joke, double that sentiment.

So then I actually had something very rare for me at Cinequest--a break. As in over an hour with no movie on my schedule. So I tried to see if I could crash the VIP Soiree. They've let lowly media people in before (and the press pass used to always include that), but no luck last night. Instead I stopped at House of Siam (part of the Cinequest Diner's Circle, so support them!) The garlic prawns were delicious.

And then I strolled back to the Camera 12 for NOBEL PRIZE WINNER, which after careful thought is my favorite of the festival so far. Joachim West is a talented writer, but unrecognized and not too confident. In fact, even though he's already spent the advance, is getting evicted, and his novel (10 years in the writing) is done, he doesn't send it to his publisher, he throws it in the trash. And goes off to be homeless...and fakes his own death. And then his publisher receives the manuscript...and loves it...and passes it off as the work of a famous writer who happens to have writer's block. And wacky hijinx ensue. A smart, funny, cynical as hell story of the gap between genius and recognition ("How can he be a genius if no one's heard of him?") Some might be a little put off by too many far-fetched coincidences. There's a line early on he says about coincidence, that I can't quite remember but seems meant to give the film leave to play about in coincidences as much as it wants. And I know for a fact that a lot of the audience was put off by the ending. I will try to avoid spoilers by speaking in generalities, but be warned anyway. For a long time there seems to be hope for a happy ending--the wicked will be punished and the good will triumph. But this isn't that kind of movie, it's cynical and a little mean. And when the audience realized at the ending exactly what kind of ending it would be, I heard palpable grumblings of disappointment and even anger. And I must admit I had the briefest flash of disbelief that they could actually end it like this. But that thought dissipated quickly and I embraced the cynical ending as the absolute intention of the film, and I loved it.

And then I saw perhaps the most challenging program in the festival, which started with the short SNOVI (DREAMS). Memories and dreams of war, a soldier haunted by his past, or a ghost dreaming of an alternate future. I don't really know, but it was well done.

And then I ended the night with NEW YORK DECALOGUE. I have no freakin' clue what to say about this movie. It's frustrating, it's beautiful, it's nearly dialog free, it's musically rich, it's boring, it's shocking. I was aggravated, I was bored, and I struggled (and briefly failed) to stay awake, and I'm afraid that might mean I'm not good enough to appreciate this movie. A series of vignettes show a window into the lives of various New Yorkers, leading up to a prologue that brings them all together (or as I tweeted, does the exact opposite. Yes, that's a spoiler, and it's in bad taste). I wish I loved this movie. I wish I hated this movie. But instead I'll be content to be enormously conflicted about this movie (and maybe try watching it again on a screener).

And that's the end of day 8, and SAMUEL BLEAK is still the worst thing I've ever seen at Cinequest.

Total Running Time: 265 minutes
My Total Minutes: 227,163

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 7

Hey, I just realized a handy way to remember what day of the festival it is. Since it started on March 1, day 2 was March 2, day 3 was March 3,...Monday was March 7, so it must be day 7. I'm good at maths! Which is a good thing, because the first two movies featured math, or at least numbers in the titles.

First up, 80 DAYS. Axun is a 70-something woman living in Spain. She has a daughter in America and a husband who would be lost without her (one endearing recurring joke is how she's the one who opens jars because his hands are weak--arthritis, I assume?). When her brother (I think, I was a little unclear on the relationship) Mikel is in a car crash and is in the hospital, she goes to visit him. And there she meets an old school friend Maite, who is visiting her brother in the very next bed. They were very close friends, in fact Axun's first kiss was with Maite. While Axun stayed at home and raised a family in her conservative world, Maite is a world traveler, a pianist, and a lesbian. And reigniting their friendship brings up some confusing and powerful feelings in Axun. Their story is told with an uncommon grace, subtlety, tenderness, and humor. You care about every character, even (especially) Axun's husband who begins to suspect she's having an affair because she's always staying late at the hospital and not coming home. Very well done.

The next show started with THE TWIN GIRLS OF SUNSET STREET. A weird stop-motion story of two old women, the children they keep locked up, and their odd business.

And that led into 22ND OF MAY, by Koen Mortier. I loved his first film, EX-DRUMMER when I saw it at Indiefest two years ago. In fact, I loved it so much that I didn't even read the synopsis, I stopped when I saw it was from him. And that's the perfect way to go in--not knowing what's going to happen. Even seeing the picture in the program guide is too much of a spoiler. But there's no way to describe it without spoilers, so here goes. It starts with Sam, a tired-looking man going through his morning routine--washing, having a smoke, having breakfast, and making his way to work. He's a security guard in a shopping mall, but his job is really directing people to the store they're looking for and rousting the homeless out of there. And then a bomb goes off. It's so unexpected and such a contrast to the laconic pace of the opening scenes that it has the obvious shocking effect. Sam crawls through rubble, tries to rescue people, and eventually just flees the scene in terror. And then he is haunted by various victims, as they force him to relive the day over and over again, asking why he didn't do something to stop it. It's a visually stunning movie that smartly examines the feelings of guilt in a man who realistically couldn't have done anything to stop a tragedy. To me, it's a reflection on both the pointlessness and inescapability of reliving tragic events over and over again in our minds (incidentally, Mortier said in the Q&A that the movie was inspired by 9/11 and his thoughts of security workers there).

And finally, I ended the day with a good laugh with Shorts Program 7: Comedy Favorites
CAPTAIN FORK: The travails and fantasies of a single dad. If only there was someway he could no longer be a dad. Hey, these pajamas are flammable, aren't they?
CAREFUL WITH THAT CROSSBOW: A brave girl and a boy with terrible aim.
DELMER BUILDS A MACHINE: And it's one hell of a machine. It can fire a shot all the way to....
ENRIQUE WRECKS THE WORLD: One little slingshot can kill all the animals in the world.
HELLO CALLER: That's the freakiest, kinkiest suicide hotline ever.
INSIDE OUT: Where to begin...overlapping stories of prison, toilet conversations, marching band, therapy, and kinky sex. And more, I'm sure.
LEST WE FORGET: A couple of old veterans teach a smarmy used car salesman not to abuse his wife and son.
NOT YOUR TIME: Sam Rosenthal (Jason Alexander) is a struggling writer who finally comes up with the perfect pitch--he's going to kill himself. Everyone wants to take a meeting about that story. Starring many real Hollywood producers and agents.
TIME FREAK: If you have a time machine, don't get too hung up on using it to perfect every moment of your life.

And that was day 7 of Cinequest 2011, my 10th Cinequest, and SAMUEL BLEAK is still the worst thing I've ever seen at Cinequest.

Total Running Time: 310 minutes
My Total Minutes: 226,898

Monday, March 7, 2011

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 6

End of the first weekend. Five more movies.

First up, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO ION B, a documentary that succeeds by sheer virtue of the strength of its fascinating subject. Ion Barduleanu is an artist. Check that, Ion Barduleanu is a drunk living in the garbage in an alley in Bucharest...but he's also an amazing artist. He collects magazines, clips out pictures, and makes some very funny and politically incisive collages. Of course, he started doing this under Ceaucescu's regime, so it's probably better that he was known (or unknown) as a drunk living in garbage rather than a subversive artist (not just for mocking the communists, but for embracing the decadent Western pop art). But the happy ending is that his art is discovered by a gallery owner who takes him under his wing and gets him showings all over Europe, where he is celebrated. Well, I guess that's better than living in garbage, but Ion is still very much his own man. He speaks about making his collages just to amuse himself, and while that would sound a little phony coming from any other artist, you have to believe it coming from him.

Due to a technical glitch, the accompanying short, A LOST AND FOUND BOX OF HUMAN EMOTION didn't play before ION B. It played after. And it was awesome--A sci-fi CGI adventure metaphor for going through grief after a father's death.

So then I caught a fascinating biopic, NANNERL MOZART'S SISTER. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's big sister, Maria Anna (nicknamed Nannerl), was also a musical prodigy. She traveled Europe as a child performing with him. She was hailed for her young virtuosity, but her star never rose like her brother's because she was a...she. In the time, and in the mind of her father, certain pursuits simply weren't appropriate for the delicate female sensibility--like composing or playing the violin (she was great at the violin, but her father forced her onto the harpsichord). This movie (which has U.S. distribution thanks to Music Box Films) follows her through a very important formative time. She's sixteen, just blossoming into womanhood. While staying at an Abbey while getting their coach fixed, she meets and befriends a princess of France. Later, while delivering a letter she meets the Dauphin of France, and they become quite close. In fact, if he had been allowed to marry whomever he wanted (or had the loose morals of his father and felt no qualms about keeping a mistress) they might've been very happy together. But alas her story is far more a tragedy. In the closing crawl, the rest of her life is summarized, including her efforts until her death at age 78 to collect all of her brother's work for posterity. It appears that much of what we know of Wolfgang Mozart is due to her efforts, and it's nice that we now have this movie to preserve her story. And for the record, I don't care how accurate or not the film is, it's still a moving story.

The next program started with the short film MENISCUS. Skin. Mitosis with cells made of human bodies. Bodies stacked on bodies until they explode through the ground and out of a tree. The circle of life, in all it's fleshy and spiritual glory. I don't really know what it was about, but it sure was purty.

And that led into SMALL TOWN MURDER SONGS, starring Peter Stormare as I've never seen him before. He's Walter, a sheriff in a small town of Port Beach, Ontario. Mostly Mennonites there, so it's a quiet town where not much happens. Or didn't, until a naked dead girl is found. Cops from the city are brought in, and he's quickly over his head. But it's not really a whodunnit. Not at all. It's really a story of Walter's violent past and his new religious devotion. And I don't want to give more away. It's beautifully shot and acted, and although the ending was maybe a little too tidy, it's still a very rewarding viewing.

Then I caught a really cool horror treat, MIDNIGHT SON. Without an origin back story (which I like), Jacob is going through some changes. He works night, because he is so sensitive to sunlight that it literally burns him. He eats constantly, but his body is failing him as if he's malnourished, or maybe anemic. Okay, there's no surprise that he's a vampire succumbing to the hunger for blood. But the journey there is smartly done and cool as hell. He meets and falls in love with Mary. He scores blood from a pusher working in a local hospital. He has a showing of his art--paintings of the sun. And he struggles with being good despite his hunger. In fact, I don't think the word "vampire" was ever spoken. There's no underground society or secret world. It's just a guy dealing with changes coming from within his body--same as any guy dealing with disease, or puberty, or addiction. Vampirism has been used as metaphors for all of that before. In fact, I've heard it said that the Vampire is the most used monster character in the history of film (BTW, see the very beginning of that history with NOSFERATU next Friday). MIDNIGHT SON shows once again that the vampire is a character that with a smart script and great acting can still hold a mirror up to humanity and show us something new.

And finally, I ended the night with Shorts 6: DOCU-NATION. Interestingly, very little in the program fits what I think of when I think, 'documentary short.' But an interesting, eclectic collection nonetheless.
AMERICAN HOMES: Cool line drawings and voice-over ruminations on the nature and importance of architecture take us through a history of dwelling in America (going back well before Europeans settled there).
BIKE RACE: Saw it at Indiefest. What I said at the time is still true: "Belgian Eddy and American Lance (not Eddy Merckx and Lance Armstrong) compete in a bike race, the Tour de Force, which becomes a race for the love of Eddy's girlfriend."
THE COMMUTE: The travels of an American wrestler on tour in Japan, and the family (wife and young daughter) he Skypes with at home.
THE NORTH CAPE: A beautiful look at the wonders of nature in Norway. Shot triple-wide for a tourist center's special theater. Cinequest needs to put in a triple-wide screen to accommodate it. Or better yet, I need to go to Norway and see it there.
THE STITCHES SPEAK: And they tell stories of refugees in India and Pakistan.
TINCITY: A Hungarian hillside town. Kind of slummy looking, but there's some surprising depth (and wine cellars) in the hills.
TUSSILAGO: I saw it at SF International last year. What I said at the time: "In 1977 Norbert Kröcher was arrested for plotting the assassination of a German politician. This movie explores the role of his ex-girlfriend, still traumatized by the aftermath." Correction: it was a Swedish politician, and they planned her kidnapping, not assassination. And I didn't even mention the fascinating visuals using a sort of graphic design/rotoscoping collage form. Wow, I really screwed that up the first time!

And so that's the first weekend in the books. Just a reminder, SAMUEL BLEAK is the worst movie I've ever seen at Cinequest.

Total Running Time: 474
My Total Minutes: 226,588

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 5

First up was the program SHORTS 1: EXPECTATIONS. Here's the rundown.
CAPTURE THE FLAG: A few families get together for a weekend to party. One of the highlights is the game of capture the flag. One girl is one of the best, but maybe she's also getting a bit too old for it.
DESPAIR: Bryce Dallas Howard in the most colorful suicide film ever.
DRY: Part of the Theatre Junkies "Moments" series. Literally so quick blink and you miss it. I remember there was a really, really quick film, but for the life of me I can't remember what happened. Doesn't matter, this non-review review is already longer than the film.
LICKED: A couple of little girls do what they have to do to get money for ice cream.
LIV: A cute little girl pulls a few pranks on her daddy's boyfriend (I think that's the relationship. Actually the program started a few minutes early so I missed the beginning. I walked in as she was sticking her finger in his cake)
SUMMER DAYS ARE LONGER: A Mexican family on a hot summer day, with ice cream.
LOS GRITONES: It's fun screaming from the rooftops, just make sure you don't scream something stupid like "¡Te Quiero!"
MAM: A young boy takes care of his family, since their mom is too strung out to do anything.
RACHEL: A young woman takes the bus to El Paso to meet a recruiter and join the Army. Bad things happen on the way. It's her desperate struggle to be strong.
THE SAME OLD STORY: People overhear a heart breaking/warming cell phone conversation on the bus. Best film of the program.
WONDERBOY: A young college boy, trying to escape his violent drug past/friends with his education, has a little problem--his professor won't pay him for the pot he delivered.

The next program started with another Theatre Junkies moment, RUN. This time I kept my eyes open, and TJ Thyne runs a little bit, a dog barks, he jumps off screen, and the movie ends.

That was an odd lead-in for FALLING OVERNIGHT, a wonderful film that takes its time drawing you in. Elliot is about to go into surgery for his brain tumor. He meets Chloe and goes to her photography show, mostly as a distraction. He couldn't possibly be thinking of falling in love, what with not really knowing if he'll survive tomorrow, and even then if he'll survive 5 years beyond that. But sometimes things just sort of happen. And that's sort of the dynamic of the night--just letting things happen. There's no big maudlin moment like, 'I'm going to live for today because I might be dead tomorrow. Tonight is all that matters!' or 'I can't start a romance, I might die soon!" In fact, he doesn't tell her until the next morning. Of course, the audience knows it, and so you can see it in every little hesitant moment. It's like a privileged view of the early moments in a potential romance when both parties are holding something back. You get to know exactly what he's holding back. It's fantastic for the very real, natural feel. There's not a single false moment in the entire movie.

So next I saw SHORTS 2: SLANTED
AUTUMN MAN: Some small time Swedish thugs have a very bad day. After they're robbed, one just wants a cup of coffee, one wants to start reading Dostoevsky. Each has just about the same amount of success.
THE DIVE: A young man bartender working in a seaside town has an opportunity to go to medical school. But he can't get over the man who broke his family apart. Especially when that man walks into the bar.
HARD SILENCE: An extremely creepy story of pornography and mothers abusing daughters. Gross...and powerful.
HOLLOW: A couple of junkies try to get clean. They try every month, but when they find out she's pregnant they try extra, extra hard.
TAPEWORM: A funny and nauseating look at young girls' body issues and eating disorders.

So then I made a last minute decision, since the people introducing all the films had been pushing the World Premiere of SAMUEL BLEAK, I decide to see it. Worst last minute decision of my life. It's a veritable crap-ucopia of cliched drivel that's as emotionally empty as it is manipulative. Samuel Bleak ran away from home when he was 8, and hid in the woods for 15 years, where apparently his hair turned into a cheap looking fright wig. He's discovered and brought to the hospital. He's a mute who carries his mom's old typewriter around (although the ink in the ribbon ran out years ago). His father is a violent drunk who probably killed his mother. By the time he gets to the mental institution I was thinking to myself, 'We're just waiting for 3 things--he'll bone the hot patient, kill his father, and finally speak, saying something incredibly profound!' Spoiler alert: I was 3 for 3. What I couldn't predict is it would have groan-inducing scenes like his father smashing the typewriter and Samuel putting the keys together to spell "MOTHER." Awful, awful, awful!!! I have seen so many movies at Cinequest (this year and others) where the writer, director, and actors put in tons of effort to make sure the emotional reactions are true. Writer/director/actor Dustin Schuetter takes a giant crap over the very thought of putting in such work.

In fact, SAMUEL BLEAK was soooo bad, I wanted to see a good movie, like...PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. So I did. I saw the World Premiere of the 3D version of PLAN 9. Yes, it's laughably bad. Yes, it's colorized. Yes, it's 3D. That's not the way Ed Wood shot it, but I'm sure he would approve. This I'm sure is the movie as he always meant to make it. And yes, I did show up dressed as Vampira. No I don't have pictures. But I'm sure there are plenty on the Internet now.

SAMUEL BLEAK is still the worst damn movie I've seen at Cinequest. I think I'll end every one of my posts that way. At least this year.

And finally I saw HAIR OF THE BEAST. A costume drama with werewolves. Too much costume drama, not enough werewolves. Actually it was pretty fun, if it took a long time for the monsters to actually show up. A condemned man in 17th century Montreal escapes and steals the identity of a priest who is famous for slaying werewolves. And then he stumbles into a town constantly on the lookout for werewolves, where he's greeted as a savior. And of course, wacky hijinx ensue. And it includes the best backstory ever for how werewolves were created in the first place.

And that was how the first Saturday of Cinequest 2011 ended.

SAMUEL BLEAK is still the worst damn movie I've ever seen at Cinequest (and I've been doing this for 10 years).

Total Running Time: 578 minutes
My Total Minutes: 226,114