Thursday, June 30, 2011

Jason shares his thoughts on the aborted MoviePass beta

A little background: earlier this week the movie-watching community in general and the SF Bay Area movie-watching community was all atwitter (pun intended) on a brand new "Netflix-for-theaters" service launching called MoviePass. It was supposed to go live (bay area only, invite only) yesterday, but today after protests by exhibitors and distributors they pulled the plug. I have to stress, I don't know what happened. This is not meant to be some definitive story or sage judgement on the situation (of course, judgement will be made, I'm just too ignorant to be sage). More than anything, I'm writing in hopes that people more in the know (or at least with different insights) will respond.

Let me start by saying I more or less like the MoviePass idea, as far as I understand it, and I'm pretty much the target customer cinephile. I have some quibbles (limit 1 movie per day, no repeats viewings), but no deal breakers. And now let me explain the service as best as I can understand. For $49.99 per month, you get a subscription that allows you to see as many movies as you like. There are some restrictions--it's subject to availability, and as I mentioned above you can only see one movie per day and you can't see the same movie twice. Although I can understand the last two restrictions, particularly from a fraud prevention standpoint, I experience plenty of legitimate situations where I would want to violate one of those rules--particularly the more than one movie a day rule (heck, I've averaged over one movie a day for the last four years, and seen as many as 10 a day). They announced a rather limited selection of theaters at first, but since it included Landmark Theatres and Camera Cinemas, it would include a pretty good selection of "indie" movies.

Some other technical features. In order to use the service, you must have an Iphone or Android-powered smartphone. The tickets are only delivered to your phone (I don't know if you can order through a web browser or only your phone). There are no tickets you can print at home. When you get near the theater (presumably as determined by your phones position tracking?) the ticket you ordered appears and is scanned at the theater.

Too bad the theaters apparently didn't know about this. Apparently they used a third party ticket service to act as a "broker." Specifically, they used And it strikes me that if they just treated all the MoviePass tickets as ordinary tickets (i.e., process the order with no charge as if you had won a free ticket) then it would've been practically invisible to the theaters and things may have gone rather smoothly. It seems (again, from the outside looking in) like they were so much in love with the "tickets on your smartphone" model that they passed up an easier implementation.

So now let me look at the exhibitors complaints, and address them. As far as I can tell, there are two main complaints. First, we just don't like this ticketing model. Second, they didn't consult with us so we can't make sure it's done well.

As for the first complaint,...well I do like this model--and I'm your customer. Not that the customer is always right or anything (heck, the model I'd really prefer is "free movies for me all the time"), but I definitely see how this can work. Although I'd also point out that I'm more likely to buy concessions if I'm staying for more than one movie, so I think it would be in your best interest to actually allow multiple movies in the same day. In any case, I implore you to work with MoviePass (or frankly, someone else) to implement this model--or something similar--the right way. Most importantly, I don't understand the overall objection to this model. I know I'm not in your shoes and there's probably something important I don't understand, but can you answer me a couple of questions:

1. Is the model of a monthly subscription based, all-you-can-watch movie service inherently unworkable?
2. Perhaps this is the same question, but are the obstacles/objections to such a service insurmountable? I've been told they use this system in France, so what keeps us from using it here? What would it take?

And that gets me to the second point. I agree, MoviePass trying to do this without the exhibitors on board seems rude and unprofessional. Now, according the the article I read (and I reiterate I have now special knowledge of this), "MoviePass coordinated its ticketing with online ticket sellers, instead of cinemas, after not being able to get exhibitors to sign on." If they really tried to sell you on this and you rebuffed them, maybe some of the blame goes on you. Whatever happened, I still implore you--now that they have your attention--work with them (or someone else) to get this model right.

Now, let me address MoviePass. I like your idea, but it seems to me you have pathologically weak communication skills. As I've said, I don't know what went on in your attempts to get buy-in from exhibitors, but I'm already biased against you. Mostly that's because I spent a good portion of this morning reading the terms and conditions on your website. Although that page is now down (currently redirects to the splash screen), I managed to save the page and convert it to PDF while it was up. And I've posted it here. My personal favorite part is under the cancellation policy (bottom half of the third page), where your office phone number is listed as "###-###-####". There's also a whole section on DVD purchases, which I saw nowhere in any press articles about your service. And finally, although news articles (and a tweet you sent me--BTW, I love the white text on white background in your twitter pattern. Highlight to read it) mentioned the 1 movie per day rule, I couldn't find that anywhere in terms and conditions. Maybe I just have poor reading comprehension, and I love for anyone to point out where it says that. And while we're at it, what does this mean (two lines before the Cancellation Policy)?
MoviePass® is only valid for one movie at any one time and cannot be used to obtain a ticket for another movie before the film presentation for which it has been used comes to an end.
I read that and was scratching my head. I was wondering if that meant once you've booked a movie you can't book another movie that starts before your first movie ends, or if it meant you can't even go through the process of booking your second movie until after the first one ends. E.g., Imaging you were seeing one movie at 1:00, and it was 2 hours long (i.e., it ends at 3:00). And say you had two choices of a second movie you wanted to see--one that started at 2:55 and one that started at 3:15. I took it to mean that under no circumstances could you see the 2:55 movie. Even though I could decide to run out during the end credits and I didn't care if I missed the trailers before the second film, if I want to see the 2:55 movie I'd have to buy a ticket normally, I couldn't MoviePass it. But I could see the 3:15 movie, since it starts after the 1:00 movie ended. It's just a question of whether I could book it earlier or if I had to book it in the 15 minute window between when the first movie ended and the second one started. Now I understand that's not true, I can only see one movie per day with MoviePass. But I'll be damned if I could figure that out from your terms and conditions.

So to summarize, MoviePass, you're not ready for prime time so please get your shit together and try again. And I do mean try again, don't give up. I want* this service! If you get it together, implement it right, have the exhibitors on board, and it works smoothly I will be your biggest customer and I'll proselytize you to the ends of the earth (or as far as your service covers).

*As an alternative, the service I really want is a "day pass" to a theater. Something allowing you to see as many (not sold out) movies as you want in the same theater on a single day. Priced maybe slightly above 2 regular tickets, so it would only be worth your money if you saw at least three movies in one day. Plus it would give you the freedom to check out the first part of a movie you're not sure of, and possibly walk out and see something better if it's not grabbing you. I figure there would be hassles with reporting box office receipts to distributors, but I don't see that as insurmountable. And it could be implemented by any single enterprising, adventurous exhibitor.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Jason goes to the Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival--Day 3

Which is the last day. It's a short festival, but a heck of a lot of fun.

The day started with a pair of Helens, Helen Holmes and Helen Gibson (born Rose Wagner, became Rose Gibson when she married Hoot Gibson, and became Helen Gibson when she took over the lead role in Hazards of Helen fame--Holmes of course was the original). There was an introduction by film historian Larry Telles and Shirly Freitas, the great-granddaughter of Helen Holmes. Then we saw a couple of their films, both featuring that staple of stunt films from the time--trains:

WEBS OF STEEL (1925): Helen Holmes is the daughter of a railroad magnate. Her dad wants her to marry Jim Haggerty (Arthur Morrison), but she's got her eyes on the new guy who saved her from danger, John Andrews (Bruce Gordon). But he's got a troubled past that Haggerty means to expose. Oh, and there's a train robbery they've got to stop and some amazing stunts that Holmes did herself.

GHOST OF THE CANYON (1920): The rare moments when Helen Holmes used a stunt double, her double was Helen Gibson (back when she was still Rose Gibson), so she was a natural to step into the role when Holmes left. This movie feels like the inspiration for a Scooby Doo mystery, with a ghost haunting a railroad trestle. Tons of fun, with more amazing stunts.

And then the second show of the day, and the last of the festival, featured our own inimitable Baby Peggy (aka Diana Serra Cary). Born in 1918, I met her at her 90th birthday celebration, and she's still spry and sharp as a tack (and an entertaining and lively silent film historian, with several books to her name). I hope she never dies, but rest assured we will keep her memory alive here in Niles (where her dad worked as a movie cowboy for Broncho Billy Anderson for a short time). Anyway, the film was a delight.

THE FAMILY SECRET (1924): Baby Peggy is that secret, as her parents were married in secret. See, Margaret and Garry loved each other and got married, even though her father disapproved. When he catches him in the house, he sets him up as a burglar and has the police take him away for 4 years. In the meantime, Peggy is born and starts growing up. Her mom is depressed and spends days in bed. Her nanny is at best humorless and at worst negligent as she reads romance novels while Peggy wanders off. The nurse won't let Peggy stay with mommy because she gets to nervous. Grandpa has little time for her. So she spends her time playing with the cook and the maid, who dote on her as she gets into all sorts of hijinx. Meanwhile Garry is finally released from prison, but doesn't know how to find his daughter (even though they're still living in the same home. That seems like a plot hole to me). But you know what, I'll overlook that plot hole. The real heart of the movie is how Baby Peggy can melt anyone's heart. Her grandfather's character arc is particularly nice. And I loved how the audience was totally into it, cheering the good guys and hissing at the villains. A great screening to cap the weekend.

And like that, the festival was over. I had a barbecue dinner from the Florence with the rest of the Niles gang, as we chatted well into the early evening before I headed home. What a weekend.

Total Running Time (estimated): 160 minutes
My Total Minutes: 241,419

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Jason goes to the Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival--Day 2

I missed most of the day to see the San Jose Earthquakes disappointingly miss an opportunity to beat the hated L.A. Galaxy, instead tying 0-0 after having L.A. down a man and with a midfielder converted to goalkeeper. They frustratingly lost their rhythm, pace, and control in the second half.

But I was back in time for a special dinner with the Niles gang, courtesy of the Nile Cafe, delicious!

And then I caught the last show of the night, which started with the presentation of the museum's Ray Hubbard Award to Richard Roberts, who besides being an excellent (and world's tallest) film historian (and champion of forgotten comedians), is also just a funny, engaging guy. But enough about him, on to the show:

THE THIEF CATCHER (1914): This was a real treat, a long lost film with a brief Charlie Chaplin cameo as a Keystone Cop. The real star, though, is the police chief Ford Sterling, who gets into a bit of trouble with some thugs, and causes some typical Keystone chaos.

WITH THE U.S. ARMY IN SAN FRANCISCO (1915): I had always known Keystone for the comedies, and thought that was all they did, but they produced so many films that sometimes they didn't have the people or gags ready to do something scripted (as much as they were ever scripted), so they did "actualities" (i.e., documentaries). This is one where they came up to San Francisco and filmed military training operations at the Presidio.

PROTECTING SAN FRANCISCO FROM FIRE (1913): Another Keystone "actuality" again in San Francisco. This time showing the readiness and equipment of the fire department (and remember, this is just 7 years after the big Earthquake that started so many fires, so this was pretty important stuff). The highlight is the massive fire boat that can protect the waterfront by spraying massive amounts of water from hoses and a water gun.

THE DAREDEVIL (1923): Another Mack Sennett comedy (after Keystone had closed) with Ben Turpin as a guy who through wacky hijinx falls into a job as a movie stuntman. Luckily Ben Turpin can't see fear, no matter how much chaos ensues.

And an intermission, and finally the feature.

THE EXTRA GIRL (1923): This print was from an old PBS series The Silent Years, and so it included an introduction by host Orson Welles. He explained how THE EXTRA GIRL was one of just two Mack Sennett feature length comedies that are known to exist. Mabel Normand stars as a small town girl with dreams of being a star. Unfortunately her dad has other plans--namely for her to marry Vernon Dent. She wins a contest for a movie contract (with the help of her boyfriend Ralph Graves) and escapes her wedding just in time to make the train. But when she gets there, it turns out life in Hollywood is none to easy. A good story, well told, with a nice mix of humor and drama. Very cool.
Total Running Time (estimated): 120 minutes
My Total Minutes: 241,259

Jason goes to the Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival--Day 1

I returned from Cleveland last Friday, just in time for the big weekend in Niles--the 14th annual Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival. The theme this year--Mack Sennett (e.g., Keystone) comedies and action women. Awesome!

The first night we started with a couple of Mack Sennett comedies.

THE GOLF NUT (1927): Hilarious hijinx of Billy Bevan, causing quite a lot of chaos on a golf course, mostly at the expense of Vernon Dent.

WHEN A MAN'S A PRINCE (1926): 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.

Then after a brief intermission, on to the feature:

MANHANDLED (1924): Gloria Swanson stars as a hard working, somewhat abused but rebellious shopgirl. Hey mechanic boyfriend Jimmy has a great idea for a device that will greatly improve fuel efficiency (that's oddly timely!) and will raise them out of their blue collar life. But she has her own career plans, falling into high-society parties and impersonating a Russian countess. But if she plays with fire, she's bound to get burned. Very entertaining, although the sexual politics have dated very poorly (but fun to see as a window into the past).

Total Running Time (estimated): 115 minutes
My Total Minutes: 241,139

Friday, June 24, 2011

Jason goes to the Cleveland Cinematheque and sees LE QUATTRO VOLTE and NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT

In my latest trip to Cleveland, I returned to the prime spot for cinephilia, this time for a double feature of films I meant to see but never got around to in the SF Bay Area. Let me once again remind my Cleveland readers that you have a real jewel of film programming right there, and they deserve (and could certainly use) your support.

First up, the nearly dialogue free LE QUATTRO VOLTE. We open on an ash mound, as the workers are making charcoal. The mound is breathing smoke and as the camera enters the mound, the relentless, rhythmic pounding of the workers shovel becomes a heartbeat. You can tell immediately this is going to be a brand new interpretation of life and nature. We see smoke from the charcoal mounds drift over the forests. We see a goatherd take his herd out grazing. We see an ant crawling across his face. We see a baby goat be born. We see (in the funniest scenes, bordering on pure but subtle slapstick) the newborn goats exploring their world and playing with each other. We see the charcoal men's truck lose control and knock over the gate to the goat's pen. We see the tallest tree in the forest cut down and brought to the town square for a festival. And after the festival, we see the tree cut into pieces, taking to the ash mounds, and turned into charcoal.

I'm convinced I only 'got' about half of what was in this film. It's challenging, but a challenge with the immediate reward of seeing the world in a brand new way.

Before the second film started, they ran some trailers including the trailer for LE QUATTRO VOLTE, which I'm declaring essential preparatory viewing for the film. It actually lays out--in words (which aren't used in the actual film)--the thesis of the film. Everyone lives 4 lives: we are minerals (the ash mound), we are plants (the forest and the tree), we are animals (the goats) and we are rational beings (the goatherd) and we must be born and die 4 times in our life. Now that I've seen the trailer, I need to see the film again.

And then the second film was NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT. The Atacama desert of Chile is the driest spot on earth. And because of this, it has attracted astronomers from around the world to its pure, clear, distortion-free sky. I love seeing science romanticized, and astronomy is a great branch to show beautiful, stunning pictures. The astronomers are quick to point out that when they look at light far away they're looking into the past (even sunlight is 8 minutes old when it reaches earth), which gives them something in common with the other scientists who roam the desert--the archaeologists (it also gives a reason for the word "Nostalgia" in the title). The same dry climate that makes the sky so clear also keeps remains wonderfully preserved. And finally there are the searchers for the most recent of histories--the women who search for remains of dissidents who were "disappeared" during Pinochet's reign. It makes the last half of the movie very sad, heart-rending even. And sets up some eerie juxtapositions, like when an old woman wishes that the telescopes can be turned back on the earth and find bones, and then the astronomers excitedly point out the characteristic peak of calcium in a distant star's spectrum. Or when the remains of prehistoric aboriginal residents are better preserved and catalogued than the unidentified remains of the disappeared. The final coda--that a culture without a memory is already dead--is elegantly and poetically expressed, and the film ultimately stands as a thank you note to those who would preserve memory, whether recent, prehistoric, or as far back as the start of the universe.

Total Running Time: 178 minutes
My Total Minutes: 241,024


Continuing my occasional series of checking out independent/art house theaters in Cleveland, I went to the Capitol Cinema. Part of the same chain that includes the Cedar Lee, this is a 3 screen house that plays a mix of art-house and blockbuster fare. While I was watching MIDNIGHT IN PARIS in one of two upstairs screens, GREEN LANTERN was playing in the big screen downstairs (I forget what was playing on the third screen). Which brings me to my only real gripe--they could do with better soundproofing. I could hear the rumbling explosions of GREEN LANTERN below me. I believe the three houses were converted from a single screen movie palace, and this inadequate soundproofing is pretty common.

My other minor gripe is there's a small half-wall in front of the front row (at least upstairs) which prevents me from stretching out my legs (one of the best perks of the front row). But on the plus side, you can get a beer at the concession stand, the staff was friendly, and the digital projection looked very clean (I'm guessing it's some version of HD, and it was definitely Dolby Digital, I don't think it was 4K). And Tuesday night is free (small) popcorn night.

Okay, as for the was charming. The trailers I saw did a great job of setting up that Owen Wilson's character (Gill Pender) loves Paris although his fiance and her family aren't that enthralled. And particularly he has adventures at night when he's all alone. But they don't reveal the big surprise about those adventures...and neither will I. I'll just leave it at it's charming, pleasing, and there's a good message about finding your bliss in the life you're given. Perhaps not a greatly profound or earth-shaking message--Woody Allen doesn't really do that. Instead (when he's at his best) he takes simple elegant truths and displays them with easy grace and charm, as he does here.

Running Time: 100 minutes
My Total Minutes: 240,846

Monday, June 20, 2011

Jason goes to Bad Movie...Late Afternoon and watches SUPERMAN

We started a little early last Sunday, since it was a double feature. A special Happy Birthday to our co-hosts, Sherilyn and Rhiannon. My present was not just my presence, but my leaving early, before the second movie (SUPERMAN II: The Richard Donner Cut). I just couldn't take any more of this ridiculous garbage, so I left. And I would like to say everyone wins, but I woke up in Cleveland. Which, oddly enough, is where Superman was created by Siegel and Shuster. Now I suppose I should actually say something about the movie, but it's been mocked plenty of times (WTF is up with reversing the Earth's orbit reverses time!?) so instead I'll just say Ira's mom is a whore lovely woman who raised a heck of a son.

Running Time: 151 minutes
My Total Minutes: 240,746

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for comedy shorts night--June 18, 2011

Back at my favorite local silent film cult. Hey, before I tell you about the movies, don't forget to help us out by voting for the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum at Preservation Nation. You can vote once (and only once) per e-mail address, I've used all three of my e-mail addresses and I've gotten no spam from them (I did uncheck the box to receive e-mails).

Oh, and don't forget next weekend is the big weekend at Niles, the Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival. Get your tickets early.

And now the movies, and they were a gas:

EASY STREET (1917): Chaplin starts out as the tramp, but this time he gets a job as a policeman. A policeman on the toughest street in town, where giant Eric Campbell is sending all the cops to the hospital. But Charlie fixes him by dropping a street lamp on him and gassing him out.

MUM'S THE WORD (1926): Charley Chase comes home to meet his new stepfather. But his mom hasn't said anything about him yet, so they keep it a bit of a secret, with wacky, somewhat racy comedy ensuing.

Then after a brief intermission, we continued.

COPS (1922): Buster Keaton in one of his most famous shorts (particularly for the seen with the boxing glove and the loaded up cart). He picks the wrong day to accidentally get on the cops' bad side. Since it's the day of the big policemen's parade, they're all in town, and eventually all chasing him.

LEAVE 'EM LAUGHING (1928): The boys, Laurel and Hardy, in a trip to the dentist and way to much laughing gas. Hilarious.

Total Running Time: 82 minutes
My Total Minutes: 240,595

Jason watches GREEN LANTERN in 3-D

The 3-D adds very little, but on the other hand I think my eyes have grown accustomed to it to the point that it's also not distracting.

As for the movie, it's prime fodder for Bad Movie Night. Not that you can't turn off your brain and enjoy a nearly-lifelike simulation of an enjoyable movie. I confess I never read the comic books, so I don't know the mythology, but the premise is laughably ridiculous. A corps of intergalactic peace-keepers, armed with green rings that harness the power of the will--anything you can imagine you can create a shiny green version of. There are 3600 warriors in the Green Lantern Corps, each in charge of a sector containing several galaxies (although the edge of the Milky Way is somehow in a different sector from Earth). Their greatest enemy Parallax, a creature of yellow fear, has escaped from the Lost Sector and is running rampant. Meanwhile a Lantern wounded in battle crash lands on Earth and the ring chooses brash man-child test pilot Hal Jordan to be the new Green Lantern (and the first human chosen for that honor). And there's a crazy plot where Parallax infects a scientist (who works in the Science Building because "laboratory" is too big of a word for this movie) and there are lots of battles before Hal shows everyone that courage isn't living without fear, it's overcoming your fear (and other grade school level pop psychology).

The thing about the movie is, it could have been just a silly superhero fantasy for children, except that it's PG-13 with some unnecessary swears and sexual situations. It's like it wanted to have it both ways--dumb enough for children but with a few token adult elements. Which in the end appeals only to grown up irresponsible man-children, like Hal Jordan.

Running Time: 105 minutes
My Total Minutes: 240,513

Jason watches the Primitive Screwhead production of Much Ado About Lebowski

A revival of their hit show from last year. Still hilarious, still has that great no-budget but let's go crazy anyway style. And the new knave of Lebowski (Alfred Muller) has a more laid-back, very 'knave' attitude, while being a little more frisky with interacting with the audience. Especially in the early dunking-his-head-in-the-commode scene (note: I played the commode. Awkward...and hilarious fun!)

Other than that, it's been about a year since I saw their previous run, so it's hard to compare. I got the sense that there were Lebowski scenes added that weren't there last year, and the importance of the two escaped prisoners from Raising, Arizona was lessened (that may have had something to do with Paul Trask, who normally plays Gale Slade, was out and so we had a stand-in for him).

The play runs Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through the end of June. Tickets here. The knave abideth, and no person furketh with the Jesus.

Oh, and rumor has it their next project with be an all-female version of their first show, titled Shevil Dead. Let's hope that happens. I've also been petitioning for a while for them to do The Exorcist live.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Jason goes to Holehead--Closing Night

One last movie, GRAVE ENCOUNTERS. A clever and well made "found footage" film opens with an introduction by a television producer, explaining that some time ago he produced an unaired reality series featuring the adventures of a team of psychic investigators. This series was to be called "Grave Encounters" and the reason it never made it to air is what happened in episode 6. Then the tapes of episode 6--edited for time but altered in no way--are shown.

The team assembles and prepares to investigate The Haunted Asylum, an old abandoned mental hospital. Caretakers explain the history--some of the first lobotomy experiments were performed there, and locals claim that some nights you can see figures in the windows and/or hear the screams and laughter of the inmates. The crew keeps the cameras running all the time, so you get to see "behind the scenes" moments that reveal the show is a total fake--none of them believe in the paranormal, their psychic is a total act, and they bribe a landscaper to talk about seeing really scary ghosts. And that all sets up the main premise of the episode--they'll lock themselves in the hospital for one night, and film everything that happens. Of course, they start by ginning up a few events, but soon the real spooks come out, and the sun never comes back up (and none of the lights work in the building). And then it's a series of escalating scares. There's not much of a surprise in the main premise (it's almost identical to HAUNTED CHANGI from earlier in the festival), but it's accomplished very, very well. It even made me jump a few times. Great work for a first feature film by the Vicious Brothers (not their real fact, I don't think they're really brothers).

And like that, Holehead is over...for another year...or possibly another six months, if they actually do a winter event like they're promising/planning.

Running Time: 92 minutes
My Total Minutes: 240,408

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Jason goes to Holehead--the penultimate night

It's almost over.

First up, was supposed to be the short SUSPENSION, but the disc was cracked, so that didn't happen. So we jumped right into the feature, MIDNIGHT SON, which I brought to Holehead after seeing it at Cinequest. Here's what I said back then:
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. 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.
Yup, I still liked it after a second showing. Although I'll clarify that the word "vampire" is used at least once. Early on, when Jacob explains his "skin disorder" to Mary, she says, "it's like you're a vampire." And there's a moment of a meaningful look where he's thinking, 'maybe I am.'

Then the late show, with a large, rowdy, rude crowd (allegedly many of them invited for free to boost attendance). And the longish short AXED was a hell of a zombie treat from Australia. After a gruesome opening scene, we go back to the origin. A pleasant barbecue is interrupted by biohazard suit wearing jackbooted thugs, who round up everyone and put them in quarantine. Some time later, they drag them outside and unceremoniously execute (bullet to the back of the head) everyone showing the slightest signs of infection. One guy survives, picks up a trusty axe, and goes buck wild on both the zombies and the bio-suit thugs. And then it's about a good half hour of violence. Awesome.

And finally the shortish feature, KRACKOON. I really, really wanted to like this movie based on the premise--a raccoon on crack befriends a little boy and terrorizes the corrupt politicians/gangsters of New Jersey. Instead it became a lesson of what I will and won't forgive in an intentionally cheesy, no-budget movie.
  • Outlandish premise. There's nothing to forgive here, this I liked.
  • Ridiculously bad "special effects." As in, the krackoon is just a hand puppet with bulging eyes. Yeah, I forgive that, even embrace it as part of the cheesy fun. And actually some of the blood and gore effects are pretty good. Perhaps someone on the crew is actually a professional.
  • Bad acting. Easily forgivable. It's clear there are no professional actors here, just a bunch of friends running around making a silly movie. I can embrace that fun.
  • Bad shaky-cam cinematography. Particularly in the krackoon POV shots. Okay, I know this is a direct homage to Sam Raimi's love of POV shots (especially the unnamed evil POV shots in the EVIL DEAD movies). He did it much better, much more fluid. I can take a lot of shaky-cam, but this started giving me a headache. But still, if this was the worst of it, I could forgive it.
  • Bad sound mixing. I've seen this over and over again. The difference between a watchable and unwatchable movie actually has nothing to do with the images, it's all about the sound. This was unbearable. I shouldn't have to constantly switch between straining to hear the dialogue and plugging my ears from a blaring soundtrack. I like to think that putting this in the hands of a competent audio expert would improve it by an order of magnitude. I hope so. It might be unsalvageable. But this is what totally lost me.
  • A rowdy audience. Okay, not the movie's fault, and generally I'm fine with a rowdy audience, if they're reacting to the movie. This was more of a drunken mob who were reacting to themselves. I'm really afraid this will make me feel like an old fart, but the typical Holehead bunch is a mix of die-hard horror fans and serious cinephiles (the people you see at other, non-genre film festivals). We're not afraid to react to a movie (and engage in heated discussions afterwards), but generally it's in accordance with what's on screen, not just hooting for the sake of hearing our own noise.
Okay, that's all. And I'm proud I got through that without making some offensive joke about how the CIA invented crack to destroy the coons...oops.

I have just one more movie to see tonight and my Holehead will be done for this year (Maybe. There are rumors/hopes of a winter event. Stay tuned.)

Total Running Time: 189 minutes
My Total Minutes: 240,316

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Jason watches X-MEN: FIRST CLASS

Had another couple of days off from Holehead, so I caught this flick. It's fun, well made, great performances by the two leads (especially Michael Fassbender, who really tears it up as Magneto) and really adds a lot to the back story of the X-Men universe. And I have very little interest in being the thousandth person to write about it, so I'll leave it at that.

[Update below]

Okay, on second thought I decided to add a few random thoughts. First, I haven't read the comic books so I have no idea if it matches or contradicts canon. I also don't care. Second, there are plenty of amusing in jokes that I couldn't help but laugh at. Third, the montage of Charles and Erik traveling the world recruiting mutants was excellent, but the best part is capping it with Wolverine telling them to fuck off (and yes, he uses the word, "fuck"). And finally, while the transformation of young Hank McCoy into Beast (reminiscent of several werewolf movies) was cool, it does contradict a brief cameo in X-MEN 2 when a human Hank McCoy is shown on TV.

Okay, that's all.

[Note: not really, I had a few more random thoughts]

Setting it in the 60's, and particularly during the Cuban missile crisis, was a nice touch. And the best part is newly graduated PhD Charles Xavier picking up chicks in bars by pointing out their "groovy mutations."

Okay, really, really that's all.

Running Time: 132 minutes
My Total Minutes: 240,127

Monday, June 13, 2011

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 10

Now we're really getting near the end. 4 more movies last Sunday.

First up, the special 50th anniversary screening of MOTHRA on glorious 35 mm. A shipwrecked crew survives on Infant Island until rescuers come. Infant Island was used for atomic testing by the "Rosilican" government. Strangely, the survivors have no signs of radiation sickness, which they chalk up to the red juice the natives drink. Wait, natives? Immediately an expedition (privately funded by entrepreneur Clark Nelson) sets out to...completely ignore the red juice and instead kidnap two fairies ("tiny beauties") who live there. Well, that pisses off the natives, who appeal to Mothra for vengeance, but at least the tiny fairy show is a big hit. Not so much of a hit after Mothra shows up (in caterpillar form) and destroys Tokyo. In fact now Nelson is a wanted man, but even though he's world famous for being a money-hungry douchebag who caused Tokyo (and wherever he brings the tiny beauties) to be destroyed he still thinks he has a profitable act. So he flees back to his home in Rosilica...but that's just going to cause Mothra to attack New Kirk City. Awesome, hilarious (maybe even intentionally), and with a moral message of peace and forgiveness in the end.

The next show started with UNICORN GIRL, a whimsical, local short about a girl who wakes up after a party where she dressed up as a unicorn. The party looks like it was somewhere up in Napa, but she needs to get back to the city, so she gets a ride and has an interesting adventure. Lots of fun.

And then the feature, ABSENTIA, probably the smartest film with the best developed characters in the festival. In fact, if you stripped away the supernatural elements, it's core is a solid, character driven drama. 7 years ago, Callie's husband Daniel just...disappeared. With the help of her recovering junkie sister and the detective covering the case, she's finally moved on. In fact, judging by her very pregnant belly, she's moved well on. And now it's time for the final step--having him officially declared dead in absentia, and getting the death certificate. But suddenly she starts having visions of him. Maybe her mind is just playing tricks, but Tricia has a coincidentally weird experience with a homeless man in a tunnel, and she starts seeing things. Well, maybe she's just back on the junk. Or maybe something horrible is going on. In any case, Daniel reappears and everyone, including the detectives can see him. He's just horribly changed. Emaciated, ashen, and paranoid, still wearing the clothes he had on when he left. Something horribly creepy is going on, and it's an effectively scary movie that relies on atmosphere and characters rather than special effects and blood. Excellently done.

Then the next show started with the short, THE KING OF ENGLAND. Technical glitches caused it to stick every few seconds, which was really distracting (they tried two discs, and the second was even worse). But the story was still pretty clear. Soldiers in the Middle Ages in England are in the woods. Bors, their pagan guide is nervous about an old warrior/spirit who he hears rustling around in the trees. But the Christian soldiers think he's a paranoid fool. Bors is right. It's really more of an isolated scene than a full story, and it was all made locally in the Bay Area as a test to build interest/investment in making a feature. They did a good job, and I would watch the feature if it gets made.

And then the feature documentary, I AM NANCY, by and about Heather Langenkamp, who played Nancy Thompson in the original NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. It's a comic look at the legacy of the NOES series, and her life on the road going to horror conventions all over the world. She pokes a heck of a lot of fun at the relative popularity of Nancy compared to Freddy, showing long lines for Robert Englund and a few people lined up for her autograph. She compares the incredible detail of Freddy toys vs. the dearth of Nancy toys available at all. She meets tons of fans with Freddy tattoos, and...well, I won't give it away, but far, far less with Nancy tattoos. But she takes it in stride with good humor and grace. She sits for a chat with Wes Craven, about their shared legacy. And ultimately she explores the nature of fear and the courage that comes with facing fear--the very strength of Nancy's character. It's a comedic documentary, but there's a wonderful montage in the end of fans explaining the painful experiences they've been through and how Nancy's strength and courage has kept them going. "I am Nancy" is not just a line to describe Heather Langenkamp, it's a line to describe all her fans who drew strength from her example.

Oh yeah, and Heather Langenkamp was there for a brief Q&A afterwards. And she was totally cool and engaging with the audience. Very nice.

And finally, I ended the night with the supremely indulgent film, THE BOOK. In the year 2484, humanity celebrates 200 years since an alien intelligence delivered a book that ended all wars and brought a rein of unending peace and prosperity. Underground, a group gathers to tell the story of the creation of the book. And it's a bizarre tale of a writer who goes to the country to finish his novel and the alien (from inner space) who replaces him. This bizarre story has the visuals of 50's sci-fi spiked with a heavy dose of hallucinogens. For much of it, I was simultaneously puzzled, amazed, and thought the director (who uses a symbol as his name, which you can see on the film's website) was full of himself. And then (without giving anything away), we got to the ending, and I accepted it as pure, insane genius!

Total Running Time: 386 minutes
My Total Minutes: 239,995

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 9

After staying up past 2 am Friday night, then getting up early for the special screening of SUPER 8 Saturday morning, I still dragged myself up for three movies at Holehead.

First up, APOCRYPHA, a cool little locally made film. Griffith is a senior editor at the San Francisco Chronicle. If that's not impressive enough, he worked his way up there in just a year...after appearing in San Francisco with absolutely no memory of who he is or how he got there. He's also a womanizing douchebag, but lately he's had a powerful desire to bite the women he beds on the neck (worse yet, some are into it). He confesses all this to his psychiatrist, a delightfully acerbic drunk who blames Griffith for driving him to drink. Meanwhile, Maggie wakes up in Golden Gate park with absolutely no memory. An odd set of coincidences will inevitably bring these soulless-mates together. It's a good story, cleverly revealed, and features a pretty meaty role by the Thrillpeddlers' Will McMichael (that reminds me, I've got to find time to see their Vice Palace before it ends its run).

The next show was supposed to start with the short PROCESS, but they didn't have the copy so instead they showed ROID RAGE again. Still hilarious.

Then the feature RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE. I actually saw this las December. Here's what I wrote at the time:
The locals are pissed about the crazy American corporation that is drilling for archaeological relics in their mountain. But if they thought it was bad that they were disturbing the wolves and ruining the reindeer hunt (oh yeah, the heroes are reindeer hunters), just wait until they unearth the most amazing Christmas legend ever. You see, the Santa Claus created by Coca-Cola wasn't the real one. The real one was a demon who wasn't so interested in giving children presents, he was more interested in punishing naughty children. And now he's back. Pretty awesome, although I will say I wanted a bit more of a reveal at the end. Although to say anything more would be too much of a spoiler.
Huh, that was kind of brief. I'll add that the hero kid is pretty awesome. And the "reveal" at the end is actually just right the second time around. And it's hilarious. That's the most important part--it's really, really, really funny.

And the final show of the night started with the short THE MONKEY AND THE QUIET CORPSE. A drug addict beats one of those clanging cymbals monkeys to a bloody pulp. I think it's a metaphor for getting the monkey off your back. Whatever it's about, it was pretty cool.

And finally my night ended with RAT SCRATCH FEVER, a celebration of gloriously cheesy no-budge special effects. A team of privately funded astronauts explore Planet X, where they discover giant rats (played by real rats scurrying through cheesy miniature sets). Only one astronaut survives and makes it back to earth, but she's carrying a horrible rat plague. The psychotic head of the private space exploration company wants her exterminated, but her special forces boyfriend has other plans. And L.A. becomes overrun with rats. It's cheesy, it's cheap, all the 'strings' are showing, and that's all part of the fun. Don't take it seriously, just sit back and enjoy it. My personal favorite scene--when a body is thrown out a window and becomes a doll on the other side for the rats to climb over.

And that was my Saturday at Holehead.

Total Running Time: 300 minutes
My Total Minutes: 239,609

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Jason watches SUPER 8 in D-Box projected from a Sony 4K using the 3D lens even though it's 2D

Whew, sorry for the long title, I'll get to the movie in a minute, but first I have to set up the context.

The management of the Camera 7 in Campbell, CA invited me to this special screening at 8:30 am (knowing full well I was up late the night before at Holehead). The purpose of this was part of a grass-roots campaign to combat some of the negative (and misleading) press from two recent Roger Ebert articles. First, his article claiming that projecting 2D films through 3D lenses cut the light output by ~50%. Second was his acerbic article about D-Box, in which he accused it (along with 3-D) of continuing the "dismemberment of the traditional movie going experience...." (he also calls himself a "reactionary purist," which in most contexts I'd take as an insult).

So first a little context about myself, so you can understand where I'm coming from. A few years back I might have joined in the chorus insisting movies must be shown "the right way." I might have even called myself a reactionary purist. I admit I fetishize film. I love the guys at the Film on Film Foundation. I love that Noir City keeps up the increasingly difficult effort to get the studios to give up 35 mm prints for their festival. Heck, as a resident of Fremont, CA and a volunteer at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, I love being 10 minutes from the only theater in the country (world, maybe), that every week plays films as they were truly originally meant to be seen--on film, silent, with live musical accompaniment (BTW, if you could take a few minutes and vote for us by going here, we'd really appreciate it. It takes just a few minutes, you can vote once per e-mail address, and so far I haven't been spammed by them). Heck, as a volunteer at a silent film museum, I can still bear a grudge against the greedy movie houses in the teens and twenties who had the projectionists crank at a faster speed so they could squeeze another show or two in a day. This still results in silent films being shown artificially fast (especially on television).

But in the past decade or so, I my stance on the "purity" of the movie-going experience has softened. I've seen many films shot and projected on many formats, including a lot of standard definition digital films. I've been to many film festivals in the Bay Area, some that have the resources to project well, some that don't. Same with art-house/independent theaters. Contrary to Ebert's closing paragraph in the D-box article, I wouldn't recommend your average art theater if you care about the best possible projection. Too many are struggling financially. You'll find projectionists and managers who care about proper projection, sure. But you'll most likely to find that they don't have the money to upgrade and project the best possible image. I've seen many, many movies that were projected sub-optimally because that was the only venue where I could see them.

Furthermore, I've spent nearly all of the last decade seeing all these movies from the front row, because that's where I like to sit. I know it's not the "sweet spot" of the theater, and I've been told over and over again that I'm sitting "too close." I know I have to crane my neck up and look at a weird angle that distorts the picture. Tough, that's the way I like to do it. So arguably I haven't seen a single movie "the way it's supposed to be seen."

None of this truly matter. If I'm thinking about how the movie was either shot or projected, rather than the story, the movie has already failed. I can easily get "lost" in a good story that's shot and projected on shitty, under/over-exposed standard definition digital video...if it's a good story.

A few things happened in the past year that made me nearly totally reject my "purist" leanings. First, Holehead last year played the Giorgio Moroder rock and roll version of METROPOLIS: REDUX. This is a mere week after the San Francisco Silent Film Festival played the restored version of METROPOLIS, so I could do a very quick comparison. I joined in the chorus of my friends calling REDUX blasphemy (before I even saw it), and reviewed it negatively in my blog. By year's end I gave it some credit in my year-in review for Hell on Frisco Bay. I didn't put it in my top 10 repertory/revival screenings, and even then expressed the appropriate shame, hating it as a cinephile but appreciating it as a "fan of new experiences." I am now confident enough in my own opinion to say, yes, I liked it. It's not METROPOLIS as it was meant to be seen (and seeing it so close to the restored METROPOLIS is a mistake), but it is it's own unique, enjoyable experience (although I still say the colorization was distracting). And if crapping all over the "purity" of Fritz Lang's original vision can create something enjoyable, then isn't the only value of "purity" to remove enjoyably impure experiences from the world?

The other thing that happened last year was that my beloved Roxie theater finally upgraded their digital projector. Now I don't know anything about their equipment or the specs. I know it's an objectively better projection for the simple reason that the red dot is gone. That's right, for years they used a digital projector with a dead pixel in the lower right quadrant of the screen. And I saw hundreds of movies with an annoying red dot on the screen. And when they replaced it, I joked that I miss the red dot. But that joke has a bit of truth behind it. I really am, in some small way, nostalgic for a broken projector. I had many great experiences watching movies with the red dot in the corner, and it got to the point where ol' Red Dottie meant I was home. And I don't see this nostalgia as any more or less laughable than fetishizing the scratches, dots, and cigarette burns of 35 mm film.

And finally, and I hesitate to speculate on this because I'm generally averse to analyzing greater sociological trends, but I I've met plenty of young director's at film festivals who actively want the audience to interpret (and possibly subvert/contradict) their intentions with their work. Perhaps in the creative community today a "pure" vision simply isn't as valuable or interesting as sampling/modifying/re-purposing other's (and each other's) creation. Purity isn't valuable, and subverting purity is part of the new aesthetic. As I said, I should shut up, I'm not that comfortable with analyzing social or artistic trends.

Anyway, I have a new mini-manifesto, in my capacity as a star of thousands of motion picture audiences:
I shall no longer pursue the fool's errand of seeing a movie exactly as someone else thinks "it's supposed to be seen." Instead I will embrace my unique privilege of seeing a movie exactly as I see it. This is something no one else can do, and a privilege I shall cherish. I will stick to this whether the person telling me the "right way" to see it is a movie critic, a projectionist, or the director himself.
This is not to say there's no such thing as bad projection or bad distractions in a theater. I am still fully behind the "murder people who whip out their cell phones during the movie" ethos. And I have seen plenty of movies that were projected wrong. I make a huge distinction between "poorly" as in 'compromised due to lack of money, time, or expertise to buy/use the best equipment' and "wrong" as in 'I have the right equipment but set it up wrong and didn't notice.' I still remember the first time I saw GANGS OF NEW YORK I kept thinking "these shots are composed oddly, it's very unlike Scorsese to not use the space well." I couldn't put my finger on it until the end credits ran and it was clear the screen was masked wrong, and a significant chunk on each side of the screen was cut off. And I've seen plenty of other films with temporary glitches in the projection (I've usually ran out, alerted someone, and it's fixed right away). I just want it to be clear that I'm not embracing all deviations from ideal projection as a marvelously unique new experience. I'm just not chasing perfection.

Now, as for the technical meat of Ebert's two articles. I will start by explaining I'm by no means a technical expert. I'm sure I've got some this wrong, but here's what I was told by the management of the Camera 7 (to the best of my memory):

First, most accounts are probably confusing the 3-D lens with the 3-D filters. The filters polarize the light from the dual projection, and the glasses you wear lets through only light polarized a certain way, so each eye gets a different image, creating the 3-D illusion. Yes, if you leave the filters on the projector and show 2-D, that cuts down the light. Removing the filters is a 30 second operation, and at least the team at the Camera 7 do just that. If you remove the 3-D filters, the light output in 2-D is not an issue. In fact, when projecting 3-D they have to crank the lamp all the way up to get enough light through the lens, filters, off the screen, and back through the glasses. In 2-D, without switching the lens (just removing the filters), they have to crank the lamp down to keep the projection from being too bright. The measure of "too bright," "too dim," and "just right," however, is anecdotal (much like Ebert's article). They're getting a light meter in the next week to make some concrete measurements to back this up.

Oh, the other part of the whole 3-D/2-D lens controversy is the story/stories about how hard it is to change the lens. Allegedly if you screw up the whole projector shuts off. Some theaters claim it's a 90+ minute operation to change lenses. Sony claims 20 minutes to do it right. Here's the claim from Camera 7: If you're installing a new lens, including mechanically calibrating it, this can be the 90+ minute job. Once it's calibrated, the system remembers the mechanical settings and when you change lenses and set it in the proper mode, it'll move the lens to that position. This is what Sony says should be a 20 minute operation. The Camera 7 claims that they can do it in seven minutes, walking someone who has never done it before through it (then add 3 minutes to mask the screen properly, because that's still manual so they have to walk downstairs to do it). However, that is if the booth was originally built with enough room to do that easily--theirs isn't (it's an old multiplex that was retrofit for digital projection. I got to tour it after the movie, and saw exactly what they meant). Because of the difficulty of space, and because they claim it doesn't make a difference in brightness, they routinely show 2-D movies through the 3-D lens (again, with the filters removed).

Again, they have a light meter coming in soon so they'll have hard numbers that I'll be happy to report however they come out. I can tell you that using my personal organic light meter, the JW-2 HU-Man IBalls, the movie was not noticeably too bright or too dark. But perhaps my equipment is out of calibration.

Okay, now for some words on D-Box. First thing I should stress is that if D-Box doesn't sound like something that would appeal to you, or if the $8 upcharge doesn't appeal to you, all you have to do is sit in any of the hundreds of regular seats instead of the 22 D-Box seats. Second I'll point out that all the D-Box seats in the Camera 7 are in the same two rows. If you're not sitting in a D-Box seat, you also won't be sitting next to someone in a D-Box. As for the other pet peeves Ebert mentions--talking in the theater and turning on cell phone screens (both of which I'm in full agreement with Ebert)--I'd hazard to guess that the money and the added experience D-Box provides is likely to reduce such behavior, not increase it.

Finally, I'd point out that the controls are a simply"+" and "-" button, to set the motion to high, medium, low, or off. I set it to high and left it there. The important thing is, contrary to Ebert's fear, bored kids won't be "entertaining themselves with their joy sticks." Unless, of course, he was making a dirty joke, in which case I'd point out that A) kids can do that in the regular seats, too, and B) apropos of nothing, but since the D-Box seats don't fold up they're harder to clean. that I've countered Ebert's fears (and created some brand new ones for you), how was my D-Box experience? Well, let me start by saying I already have my way of immersing myself in the movie--sitting in the front row. My way of watching the movie makes it as big as possible, fills my vision, and puts absolutely nothing between me and the movie. And it's appropriate to note that most people consider this the "wrong" way to watch a movie. I say this because the main thing the D-Box seats have against them (unique to my desires) is that they're halfway up the theater, in the "sweet spot" at the front of the top section. If I were a billionaire, I'd commission the Camera 7 to install a D-Box seat in front row center with a "Reserved for Jason" sign.

So D-Box is an interesting experience. For the most part it adds something to the movie experience, although at some times it's odd noticing how they programmed it. Sometimes I wondered why they would program the motion of one car and not the other. And SUPER 8 has enough quiet moments when the seats aren't moving that I became acutely aware of waiting for the next movement. Maybe some of that is because it's my first D-Box experience, and I didn't know what to expect. I'm willing to try it again on a more kinetic 'thrill ride' kind of movie.

So how do I react to Ebert? Well, I understand him, but I suspect he's at least partly mistaken about the Sony 4K. It appears it's not the lens, it's the filters, but I'll wait for hard data for a final conclusion. At the same time, I wouldn't be surprised to find some theaters who don't know how to use it well. Camera 7 does it right.

I also understand Ebert's reaction to D-Box, and he's absolutely right...when he calls himself a reactionary purist. I can understand D-Box (or 3-D, for that matter) being an affront to his purist aesthetic. But it's not a moral affront, and it's not a worthy reason for boycotting a theater. I now know plenty of people who love it, and some of them are cinephiles who go to tons of art-house movies and attend film festivals. The proper response to your aesthetic disapproval is don't pay the $8 upcharge and sit in a regular seat.

Whew, well after all that, I suppose I should also review the film. SUPER 8 is a hell of a lot of fun. It truly is a throwback/homage/nostalgia piece for 80's kids action movies, in the mold of executive produce Steven Spielberg. Kids in small town Ohio are spending the summer making a movie on a super 8 camera. Here we've got kids playing, and young love involving the makeup/model kid and the leading lady. A night shoot is interrupted by a train crash that turns out might have been intentional, and caused by their science teacher. The train had Air Force cargo, and something has escaped and is rampaging through the town. It's a mystery, it's action, it's adventure, it's a sappy moral. It's an 80's movie. And oh yeah, if you see it on a digital projection with the sound system they used there (I think it Dolby 7.1) and you sit closer to the back than I normally do, and you listen closely during the quiet moments, you can hear the sound of a 35 mm projector coming from the booth--JJ Abrams inserted that onto the soundtrack.

Running Time: 112 minutes
My Total Minutes: 239,309

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 8

The big second weekend begins with four shows Friday. Here we go:

First up, the hit short from Cinequest, BY A HAIR: still hilarious, still a cautionary tale about picking at a stray hair.

That was the lead in to the feature, THE BLEEDING HOUSE. Out in the middle of small-town nowhere lives a dysfunctional family. On the outside they don't seem too weird--an artistic mother, hard-working father, a teenage son who's embarrassed to introduce his girlfriend to them (or is it vice-versa). The one odd bit is the daughter, a Wednesday Addams type goth (though not quite so pale) who pins dead bugs to her walls. Enter a stranger named Nick, dressed all in white and talking all fancy. Seems he had some car trouble, or so he says. But of course, there are some surprises in store. Of course, I immediately guessed that the stranger is pure evil/a representation of the devil. And for quite a bit the film neither surprised nor disappointed me. Although predictable, I was reveling in the over-the-top gleefully evil acting. And then the ending took a slightly less predictable turn, and I loved it even more.

Next up, another representation of evil/the devil, in BREATH OF HATE. Jason Mewes, sober and stretching as an actor, stars as a regular client who falls in love with an escort. So in love, he offers to take her away, but her pimp has other plans. And he sends her on a call with two other girls, for an all-night party in a mansion. There they meet their creepy, creepy clients--a melon-fucking retard, an S&M mistress, and the ringleader Hate. Hate has a deranged plan to fix the world by...I don't know, killing whores I guess. So we're in for a bloody night. Very well done, and it plays a little with disoriented time and takes a bit of inspiration from the short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" which makes it a bit of a puzzle film, but not one that's too difficult to untangle.

Next up, Holehead/SF Indiefest continued their relationship with Uwe Boll by playing AUSCHWITZ. You know, I go to a lot of film festivals and pretty routinely I see movies where the director says he wants the audience members to interpret the film for themselves. So it's rare and odd to see a film where the director is so excruciatingly explicit in his intentions for the film. It opens with Boll introducing himself and taking full responsibility for the film. He talks about how 60-70 years after Auschwitz was in operation as a killing factory, we still see genocide in places like Darfur, and he's afraid that we've forgotten the lessons of the past (side note, from meeting him a couple of times I can say this is something of an obsession for him). What films are made are in the SCHINDLER'S LIST mold--showing the tiny rays of hope in the darkest of situations. He wanted to show the bleak truth, no silver lining, so that we may never forget what happened there on a daily basis.

He backs that up by bookending his film with interviews with German high school students. Disturbingly, with one major exception (one kid can recite all the facts, figures, and litany of horror) they seem to know surprisingly little about the Holocaust. Now I don't know if there's selective editing going on, I hope that he found several more kids who did know plenty but was more interested in showing the ignorant ones.

And then the meat of the film was a dramatization of a day at Auschwitz. Actually, "dramatization" is the wrong word, since it's specifically stripped of any drama. In his un-dramatization, Jews are marched in, stripped, and sent to the showers--where instead of water of course they are gassed. Meanwhile Nazi guards (including Boll) watch dispassionately (Boll takes a nap outside of the gas chamber while frantic victims are pounding on the door). Babies are shot in the head (too small to be of any use), soldiers drink and play cards, Jewish workers are sent in to pick up the bodies and carry them to the ovens, and black smoke blocks out the sky. It's bleak, horrible, and perfectly effective at its goal of showing both the extremity and extreme mundanity of absolute horrific evil. And that's a goal worth achieving, even if the end result is hard to watch.

And after that, I could use a wacky comedy, and that was the midnight movie, ATTACK THE BLOCK. Executive produced and co-starring Edgar Wright [note: Edgar Wright doesn't act in the movie. I confused him for Nick Frost. See comments. I left the incorrect statement in as a sort of 'own-your-mistakes' kind of integrity] (SEAN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ, etc.) and directed by frequent collaborator Joe Cornish, it opens with a scene of a young woman getting mugged by some street tough kids in London. Then a meteor lands, a vicious little alien pops out, and the action starts. The thing is, in your typical monster movie these kids would be dead meat. They started out very unlikable, and unlikable kids die in monster movies. But in this one, they're the heroes. Sure, some die, but they also save the planet. And there's never a typical Hollywood "redemption" scene where they tearfully apologize and swear to live right. Hell, later they break into the same woman's apartment for refuge, and finding out she's a nurse they force her to perform first aid on one of them. But remember, they're the heroes. There's an important scene early on where she looks at the aliens, looks back at the thugs, and after a quick deliberation runs to the thugs as the lesser of two evils. So while I was watching it, I enjoyed the action and comedy (particularly Ron's weed room as the ultimate refuge) but I was a little put off by the fact that the "heroes" were thugs who mugged a woman for no apparent reason in the opening scenes. But while thinking about it the next morning, I realized there was a reason. It was a scene I didn't really pay much attention to at the time, but there's a part where they admit when they mugged her their knives were just for show, and they were just as afraid of her as she was of them. And they say they didn't know she had just moved into the block, and wouldn't have touched her if they knew she was a local. And this is very important to the 'we-take-care-of-our-own' ethos of the block. When they mugged her, they were simply defending their turf, attacking any stranger who enters the block. Exactly the same reaction they have to the aliens. They don't need a redemptive moment because their moral code never changes, and given their living conditions they were correct all along, and her mugging was a simple mistake.

I apologize for totally over-analyzing the morality of this movie. In fact, it's totally a popcorn action-comedy flick. It's just that to enjoy it as a popcorn flick, you have to either ignore morality or learn and embrace the block's morality. Belief!

Total Running Time: 345 minutes
My Total Minutes: 239,197

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 7

Two more movies Thursday night, before the big second weekend. Let's jump right in.

First up was a short and a feature about ghost hunting, in perhaps the first well-matched short/feature combination of the fest. The short, ENTER THE DARK was a very clever and surprising story of a man enlisting the help of his highly skeptical and sarcastic best friend to investigate the odd paranormal happenings in his house. Starts kind of conventional, then has some really good scares, and an excellent surprise ending.

And the the feature, HAUNTED CHANGI from Singapore. Changi hospital is famous as "the most haunted place in the world." First as a British military barracks, then a base for the occupying Japanese in WWII (where unspeakable torture and mass beheadings took place). Finally after the war it was turned into a hospital, but most locals would prefer to let their illness linger than receive treatment among the ghosts there. Well, a group of young, cocky documentary filmmakers decide to make a movie about it, and this is the 'found footage' from their adventure. We see them joking around in their office, reviewing footage, etc. And they get permission to film for one day and one night. Day footage has just a few oddities, but nighttime is when the true creepiness happens. There's a good mix of humor with the horror (the scene with the Ghost Hunters of Singapore is pretty funny). And although the ending is fairly predetermined, they still do a good job of building up to it and keeping surprises coming the whole time. It does suffer a little from the handheld shaky-cam syndrome. Part of the concept, so it's forgivable, but there were some shaky sequences that just dragged on too long (run frantically through more underground corridors, please) and even in the conceit of 'found footage' could've been edited down. But overall, it was still fun and effectively scary.

And then the late show was another wacky Japanes violence comedy from Sushi Typhoon, YAKUZA WEAPON. What can I say? Shozo was already the toughest damn yakuza ever when he returned to Japan to avenge his father's death. No man can defeat him. Women, on the other hand.... Well, after a particularly vicious battle, he gets his missing arm replaced with a machine gun and his knee turned into a rocket launcher. Now he's really ready for revenge, even if he is now government property. And the insanity never really lets up. Old loyalties, a naked lady weapon, and a nuclear finish--all the things I expect Holehead and their Japanese connection to deliver. Awesome!

Total Running Time: 205
My Total Minutes: 238,852

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 6

After skipping days 4 and 5, I was back Wednesday night. Here we go.

First up, the short ONE SMALL STEP: The story of the moon rocks who weren't brought back to earth after the Eagle landed.

And that, despite having no connection beyond being Australian, was the lead-in to the feature BAD BEHAVIOUR. This is one of two films I brought to Holehead from Cinequest, so I'm a bit biased, but lets take a look at what I said back then:
And then, after just a couple of drinks at the meetup, I was back for the midnight film BAD BEHAVIOUR. That extra U in "Behavior" is for "Uuuhhh...we're Australians!" It starts off fast, with the psycho brother-sister team Emma and Peterson killing a poor tourist for no apparent reason other than he's French (okay, not a bad reason). They're cutting a swath of murder across Australia, and they end up in the small town of Cecil Bay. But before we get to that inevitable mayhem, we meet some of the residents of the town, who are all engaging in more or less bad behavior of their own. There's a wife cheating on her husband (with her boss), there's a husband kidnapping his wife's lover, and there's a party full of drunken teenagers who break into the neighbors house looking for more booze. There's a lot of build up, followed by buckets and buckets of blood. Awesome. It's also done a PULP FICTION-esque non-linear timeline, that totally works. But seeing it at midnight when I was exhausted means I'll probably have to see it again in order to really get all of it. Maybe I can convince the guys at SF Indiefest's Another Hole in the Head to play it this summer.
Holy crap, I was prescient, I did get Holehead to play it! And I can now say that it's even better when you don't nod off for bits of it!

Okay, the second show started with the short 52 TAKES OF THE SAME THING, THEN BOOBS, by Indiefest alum and Dirty Little Shorts filmmaker T. Arthur Cottam (BEER GOGGLES, PORNOGRAPHIC APATHETIC). Just remember, the most important aspect in filmmaking is a good story.

And speaking of a good story, the feature A CADAVER CHRISTMAS had that, plus a silly, bloody sense of humor that tickled me just right. It's an old school homage to early Sam Raimi splatstick comedies (even including the Delta 88 and an Evil Dead poster). Set sometime in the past in small town America (aren't the best horror films in small towns), before cell phones, after 911 was implemented (that's right you kids, when I was really, really little you had to memorize the local police, fire, etc. numbers. 911 was implemented in my hometown when I was in grade school), when rotary phones still existed (that's right kids, there was a thing called rotary phones and...never mind. And get off my lawn!) Anyway, we're in a bar on Christmas Eve. No one there but the bartender and the miserable town drunk (bartender's keeping tabs on him to prevent his annual Christmas Eve suicide attempt). Suddenly, a guy in a janitor's overalls and covered in blood walks in, uses the bathroom to clean up a bit (not enough), sits down for a beer, and starts telling a wild story about, cadavers...that are walking around the university where he works. Enter a cop and his goat-f**king perp. And against all better judgement they go back to the university to check things out. And lots of bloody, funny, hijinx ensue. The end. Awesome!

Total Running Time: 184 minutes
My Total Minutes: 238,647

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Jason watches PLAYTIME

I'm missing nearly all of the Castro's 70 mm film series to go to Holehead, but last Tuesday night I had a break to catch Jacques Tati's PLAYTIME.

I'd never seen a Tati film before, and it's my understanding this one is his most ambitious. Well, I now want to see all his work. It's a nearly-silent comedy, where the visuals are paramount. What words are spoken are a mix of French, English, and German (and no subtitles, so I imagine there's a uniquely different experience for the speakers of each language). Tati's Mr. Hulot bumbles his way through a modern Paris (well, 1960's modern) of glass walls. This isn't the Paris of the Eiffel tower (which is only seen briefly in a reflection), but a maze of glass. He tries to meet an official but gets lost in the office maze. He stumbles into a group of American tourists. He goes to the opening night of a trendy new (so new it's still being built) restaurant/nightclub. And whimsical hijinx ensue. But the movie isn't all about the slapstick, it's about the expertly choreographed shots with many layers of overlapping action and clever visual jokes. It's the sort of richly layered comedy that can leave you finding new things every time you watch it. And I can pretty much guarantee I'll be watching it again.

Running Time: 122 minutes
My Total Minutes: 238,463

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


I had a day off from Holehead, but I kept the genre flowing with this one. And it's pretty freakin' awesome! Rutger Hauer (who deserves a Mickey Rourke style resurgence in popularity) stars as the titular Hobo. He's never given a name, but he arrives riding the rails to a scum-filled city ruled by ruthless psychopath The Drake. He sees some mindless violence, but tries to keep his head low. But he just can't help himself when The Drake's son abuses a young lady (okay, a prostitute, but she still deserves to live). He gets cut up, but finally the abuse gets too much and he goes all vigilante with a shotgun.

It's got that great 70's grindhouse feel, with insane, cartoonish villains, the scratchy film look, even the classic Technicolor logo and the yellow text title and credits. It's apparently based on a fake trailer made for a SXSW grindhouse trailer competion and attached to the Canadian release of Tarantino/Rodriguez's GRINDHOUSE. It's the movie GRINDHOUSE wishes it was (and I say that as a big fan of GRINDHOUSE). With this and MACHETE, it appears that GRINDHOUSE might be even better as an inspiration for a revival of genre homage movies than it was as a movie in it's own right.

Running Time: 86 minutes
My Total Minutes: 238,341

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 3.

The first weekend wraps up with a four-film Sunday

We start in old school Japan with the classic GODZILLA, MOTHRA, AND KING GHIDORAH: ALL OUT MONSTERS ATTACK! Okay, so "old school" is 2001, but it's the venerable Godzilla vs. The Guardian Monsters. Three monsters who defend the homeland (not the nation, the homeland, there's a difference) of Japan. First Baragon, the burrowing red horned monster without a good enough agent to get his name on the title. Then Mothra, the giant moth (with nothing but an oblique insider reference to the fairy twins). And of course there's King Ghidorah, the three-headed 1,000 year dragon. And there's the defense force, a plucky young woman (who is the daughter of the commander of the defense force) and plenty of old school monster on monster action. This is also a throwback to the first Holehead, when they played it 7 years ago. Back then we saw the subtitled version, this time all they could get was the dubbed. It was awesome then, it's still awesome now.

We then moved from old-school Japan to new-school (or new-school remake of a 70's TV show) Japan with KARATE-ROBO ZABORGAR. Non-stop cotton candy childish fun from the maker of MACHINE GIRL. Daimon fights for righteousness with his trusty motorcycle/robot Zaborgar. Their nemesis is sigma, the evil organization responsible for his father's death. Crazy silliness, and there's even a message of free will, redemption, perseverence, and fighting for who or what you love. But most importantly, the crazy silliness.

Next up was the comedy program, staring with the short ROID RAGE. An angry mutant hemorrhoid runs amok, getting revenge on the real assholes of the world.

And that led into the feature, THE MOLE MAN OF BELMONT AVENUE. A Chicago production, starring people who are allegedly legends of the Chicago sketch comedy scene, and Robert Englund. All the pets are disappearing from a rundown shithole apartment complex, and the two idiot brothers who run the place (after inheriting it from their mom) can't seem to do anything about it. Of course, they also can't seem to stay sober long enough to try. They have enough problems just collecting rent, paying the bills, and maintaining the extension cords they use to steal electricity from the church across the street. So of course they're not going to be a match for the Mole Man. But they're excellent at drinking and making fun of each other. Not much of a story in this no-budget flick, but it's plenty funny watching the idiotic, self-centered brothers and their equally deranged tenants screw everything up.

And finally, the last show of the night started with the short HAWKINS HILL. A classic setup--a teenage couple in an abandoned house, someone comes in and they find there's something sinister going on. Very well constructed in this case, with an interesting take on murals and inspiration.

The theme of art and inspiration continues in the homage to classic Italian horror, UBALDO TERZANI HORROR SHOW. Alessio is a young up-and-coming film director. Or at least he wants to be. He wants to make a horror movie but his producer doesn't like the splatter style of his scripts, he prefers something more atmospheric, psychological, classical. So he sets him up with a co-writer, a famous horror novelist Ubaldo Terzani. Prior to moving in with Ubaldo for an extended writing session, Alessio reads all his novels, and starts having nightmares about them. Clearly he's is a brilliant writer, and Alessio is eager to learn his secret. Ubaldo is charming and takes Alessio to a party so that he'll learn to let go, have fun, live life, and find his muse. There's something more to him, though, and you can probably guess without me saying anything. So I won't. Instead I'll note the humor (including a gasp-inducing dig against Clive Barker. For the record I like Clive Barker) and the great gore effects by Italian master Sergio Stivaletti. And I'll note how they got the balance and flow of psychological to gory in just the same vein as the Italian classics. Nicely done.

Total Running Time: 410 minutes
My Total Minutes: 238,255

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 2

Now the first weekend begins in earnest, with a 5 movie day. Thank god they don't do noon matinees anymore, since the bus home Friday night didn't get me home until about 4 am (but at least I got a chance to write all my reviews).

Anyway, I was back up at the Roxie bright and early at the crack of 3:20 for ITALIAN GHOST STORIES. An anthology of works by young up-and-coming Italian directors, produced through their University in Rome. There isn't even a framing device to the anthology, which makes it much more like seeing a short film program (just with all the credits at the end). An effective grouping of young horror talents, that went together very well and generally kept a good creepy atmosphere.
17 NOVEMBRE: Descendants of a recently deceased writer gather in his home to remember him, although he seems more like the kind of guy you'd want to forget.
OFFLINE: A young man gets an IM from a friend, and later finds out he killed himself earlier that same day. And then things get really creepy.
FABIA DI UN MOSTRO: Celeste doesn't speak, although there's no reason he can't. The other kids say he's the son of the devil, but one little girl believes in him. Maybe she shouldn't.
LA MEDIUM: An old woman works as a fake psychic, fleecing suckers by telling them pleasing stories. Until she gets a strange visitor.
URLA A COLLINA: The most American-influenced of the bunch (director Omar Protani was there and said he's a big fan of American horror and Stephen King movies). Three girls driving through the country at night hit...something. An animal? A person? Too dark to tell. Anyway, no doubt it will come back to haunt them. Very cool.

Next up was Michael Biehn's (THE TERMINATOR, GRINDHOUSE) directorial debut THE VICTIM. He was inspired to make this after making GRINDHOUSE with Robert Rodriguez and thought it would be fun to make his own grindhouse flick. He made this on a low budget and just 12 shooting days, so it does have some cheesy lines and less than stellar acting, but for what it is--a completely unserious bit of sex and violence--it's a lot of fun. Biehn plays a hermit living out in the woods, miles outside of the nearest town. One night, a frantic girl (Jennifer Blanc) pounds on his door screaming for help and insisting "they" are right behind and want to kill her. "They" turn out to be the cops...crooked cops who already killed her friend when a bit of rough sex went bad. He wants nothing to do with it, but he's pulled into helping her (and doing more with her, of course). It's funny and cheesy and not at all to be taken seriously. It's very predictable, but in a way that I was constantly thinking, 'and now they should do/say this...' and then they did. So it's fair to say it was predictable in exactly the way it should be. Oh, and the ending was awesome!

Michael Biehn was there along with his girlfriend/co-star/producer Jennifer Blanc. They were a hoot, I wish Holehead had scheduled more time between films so we could've had some Q&A afterwards. Oh yeah, and musician Randy Chance was there to jam a little of his soundtrack music before the film started.

Next up was a local production, THE CRAVING. Chef Ronnie Sixtos of Diabla Pica is taking San Francisco by storm--tearing through both the culinary world and the lesbian scene. Oh, and there's a maniac cannibal killer on the loose, too. There might be a connection. Crazy-ass story with crazy-ass outsized characters and a go-anywhere outrageous feel, with the FBI, a vengeful ex, and an important cover article in Wine and Food magazine. My only complaint is the sound levels were way off, which almost made it impossible to get into the movie at all. If they can fix that before releasing it in whatever fashion they can, they could have a cult hit on their hands.

The next show started with the short OFF THE BEATEN TRACK. An Australian wildlife show goes horribly wrong when they explore the site of a plane crash. An homage to the Italian cannibal films of the 70's like CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and CANNIBAL FEROX. It even includes a recreation of the scene in CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST that is among my top 5 favorite cinematic de-phallusings.

The short was nothing like the feature, THE OREGONIAN, which was, in a word, weird. In another word, surreal. A blond woman wakes up in a crashed car, covered with blood, with a staticy version of Pomp and Circumstance playing on the radio. With a face covered with blood, she wanders down the road and has a series of dreamlike adventures. She meets a creepy old woman, a guy who pisses the rainbow, rednecks drinking fruity gasoline drinks, and a guy in a furry green monster costume. And she has flashbacks to her time on a farm, and something about an abusive relationship. My interpretation is it's the nightmare in the time between being brutally raped and being killed. Often (I assume) intentionally annoying, but fascinating. At the end I had no idea what to make of it (other than my interpretation above, of course). I decided to make a conscious decision to love it, since that's not the sort of thing that would happen naturally.

And finally the midnight show started with the longish shot AN EVENING WITH MY COMATOSE MOTHER. A cool, classically structured movie about a girl watching over a house on Halloween night while the wealthy owners are at a party at the Governor's mansion. The wife's mother is 92 and comatose, she just has to check in every few hours and change her if necessary. But the creepy doll and eyeless Dickensian trick-or-treaters ruin everything. Excellent film.

Unfortunately, I can't say the same for the feature. ZOMBIE UNDEAD is possibly the least original, least interesting zombie movie I've ever seen. There's a zombie outbreak and a few survivors in a hospital they run around, fight the zombies, and...fuck it, if you've seen any zombie movie, you've seen all of this before. And that's not counting the plot holes. All I'll say is the end credits show brief scenes of the military coming in to clean up and search for survivors. It's the only part where the movie got at all interesting. If you see a trailer with military scenes in it, and you think that looks cool, remember IT'S NOT IN THE MOVIE, IT'S JUST SNIPPETS DURING THE END CREDITS!

And that's day 2 of Holehead 2011

Total Running Time: 468 minutes
My Total Minutes: 237,845