Thursday, December 15, 2011

Jason watches THE ARTIST

I know that this and HUGO are just two movies, but it still feels like there's suddenly a glut of romanticizing the silent era. Not that I'm complaining, I love silents, and anything that increases interest is good. And, oh by the way, THE ARTIST is also a solidly entertaining and clever story.

But before I get to the story, let me first talk about the gimmick--this is a silent film. It's set in the late silent era and early talkies (spanning 1927-1933). It allows for some pretty clever laugh lines (particularly when the titular artist's wife tells him, "We need to talk"), but rarely rises above the level of a gimmick. When talkies are introduced in 1929 there's a pretty ingenious scene where he has a mental breakdown while for the first time hearing sound effects (glasses clinking, girls laughing, etc.) At that point I expected it to slowly become a talkie, but it doesn't, it remains silent even in the sound era. But the best thing about making it a silent film is it expertly illustrates exactly how few words are needed to tell a story. When you have body language to express the emotions, the words are very rarely needed. This is a skill that you pick up from watching silents and has actually served me well before--e.g., when I went to a German film festival and watched a film that accidentally arrived with no subtitles. For all the stereotypes (alluded to in the film) of silent film stars "mugging" for the camera, in fact it's talkies that are more likely to insult the audience by verbalizing emotions that should be clear without words.

Okay, now on to the story. The artist of the title is George Valentin, a silent film star (Jean Dujardin). In a random chance, he bumps into fan Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) and if photographed playfully flirting with her. She becomes the talk of the town and parlays that into a role in the movies, dutifully working her way up from extra to beauty girl to supporting player to star. They work together briefly, and the flirtation ramps up a notch. And then tragedy, in the form of sound. It is very true that talkies destroyed the careers of several excellent silent actors and actresses. But George seems to see his career dying when he watches his first sound test. The next time he sees Peppy, it's on a staircase where she is literally on her way up and he's on his way down, mirroring their careers. Peppy easily makes the transition to sound and becomes a huge star, while George fades into obscurity--sinking all his money into one last silent adventure. He's left with no one but his faithful servant and chauffeur Clifton (James Cromwell). But Peppy still loves him, even if he's too dense to realize it or too proud to take her charity.

It's a loving and upbeat homage to the silent screen, and I couldn't help thinking it would make an nice angel/devil double feature with Richard Dreyfuss' 1974 X-rated tale of a broken down silent film director, INSERTS.

Running Time: 100 minutes
My Total Minutes: 259,876

Jason celebrates a Noir City Xmas

Up at the Castro last night for a double feature of Christmas Noir (how many can there possibly be?), which was also a double feature of Deanna Durbin movies.

But first, a preview of schedule for Noir City X. Great looking lineup. A little odd that they're playing THE KILLERS (1964) after the Roxie played it at their Not Necessarily Noir festival, but that's forgiven since they'll have Angie Dickinson in person! And just lots of great stuff, check it out.

Now for the movies, starting with LADY ON A TRAIN (1945), which can best be described as "slapstick noir." Deanna Durbin is Nikki Collins. She's riding a train (San Francisco to New York) and reading a trashy crime novel, when she looks out the window and witnessed someone beating an old man to death with a crowbar. She goes to the police, who think she's crazy and just obsessed with crime novels. They tell her to go get the author to help her--so she does. Or at least she tries. He's not very cooperative, and her unannounced visits really upset his fiancee. But through a bit of luck she learns the identity of the victim and gets more and more entangled in a series of wacky twists (mostly around the key piece of evidence--a pair of bloody slippers). Ultimately, she ends up masquerading as a nightclub singer (which gives her a chance to show off her musical talents) and even gets sent to prison before everything is resolved (or not, why should I spoil it?) Very funny, and with a great cast that includes Ralph Bellamy, David Bruce, Dan Duryea, and Edward Everett Horton.

As funny as LADY ON A TRAIN is, the second half of the double feature was just as depressing. CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY (1944) should win an award for the most misleading title. Technically, it is about what happens when a soldier goes on leave over the holidays. Lt. Charles Mason (Dean Harens) is on leave for a week, and plans to fly to San Francisco (a big cheer in the Castro when he insists it's San Francisco and not "Frisco") and marry his sweetheart. But his plans get waylaid twice--first when he gets a telegram saying she already married someone else, second when his plane (he decided to go and confront her anyway) is diverted due to weather and he spends a night in New Orleans. There--in a house of ill repute that he gets dragged to--he meets and learns the sad tale of Jackie Lamont/Abigail Martin (Deanna Durbin. Another coincidence, both movies had Deanna's character using two names). Seems she married a guy who turned out to A) have mommy issues, B) have a gambling problem, and C) have a slightly bigger murdering problem. Her husband, Robert Manette, is in prison for murder, but she (for some reason) still professes her love for him. That's all fine and good until he breaks out of prison and wants a little payback for the rumors he has heard about her (for some reason, he thinks she's a whore just because she worked as a prostitute to make ends meet). Oh yeah, and her psychotic husband? Played by Gene Kelly. That was weird.

And that was Noir City Xmas, 2011. Looking forward to the full week of Noir City in January.

Total Running Time: 187 minutes
My Total Minutes: 259,775

Monday, December 12, 2011

Jason goes to Bad Movie Night and watches IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE


Yup, we skewered the holiday "classic" again. But this time, I wasn't on the mic. Which I assume explains the low turnout. It was really the core regulars, plus a small group that I think actually wanted to watch the movie. We looked back halfway through and they had walked out. But at least we entertained ourselves. And damn, Pottersville looks like a fun town.

Running Time: 130 minutes
My Total Minutes: 259,591

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Jason celebrates Christmas with the Centipede

Knock knock!
Who's there?
Centipede who?
Santa peed on my Christmas tree!

Okay, so the Roxie is notorious for their Christmas celebrations. I missed the Amy Sedaris event just because tickets were a bit much. And I missed the DIE HARD/DIE HARD 2: DIE HARDER double bill because I went to see Don Hertzfeldt. But of course I wasn't going to miss their double bill of THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 1 and 2. Not that it isn't totally worth missing, it's just I'm bit of a glutton for punishment.

So I've seen the HUMAN CENTIPEDE 1 (FIRST SEQUENCE) before, and I can charitably say I was unimpressed (but it was better than SHREK FOREVER AFTER. I forgot I saw them on the same evening). It's not just that it's a distasteful, disgusting premise, it's that it doesn't even attempt to offer an insight into the dark corners of the human experience. The fact that the movie was made says more about humanity than anything actually in the movie. And on a second viewing, I'll stand by that statement even more. The only thing I got from a second viewing is noticing how much glass gets broken. Yeah, a few people get tortured, but glass really has it rough.

Okay, now for HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 (FULL SEQUENCE). I begrudgingly liked it more than the first, but it still suffers from having no connection to the human experience. It's definitely funnier, and more visceral than the first. And it goes meta right away. This time the villain is Martin, a pudgy retarded security guard obsessed with the first movie and dreams of expanding on the fictional Dr. Heiter's project. Once again, casting is perfect as Laurence R. Harvey is perfect in the role. Of course, he's no doctor so while the first movie was sterile and clinical, in this one he performing the operation with hammers, pliers, steak knives, and staple guns. And yes, it's a 12 person centipede (at least, that's what IMDb says, I could've sworn I only counted 10, but then I was pretty drunk). And the result is gory, messy, and hilarious. And I'm not the only one who thought that. The small audience of sickos in the audience also laughed at it.

Beyond that, the meta-humor gets tedious fast. Use it as a set up and then stop mentioning the original. And if I'm being charitable and search for any statement about the human condition in the film, I suppose it's that fans of such films are sick, disturbed villains. Fair...uninteresting, but fair.

I still like my idea for the planned third film: a kinky fetish club that gets off on "centipeding" kidnaps a doctor and force him to operate on them.

Total Running Time: 180 minutes
My Total Minutes: 259,452

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Jason spends a lovely evening with Don Hertzfeldt

Oooh! That sounds like it might be romantic. It wasn't. It was a night of somewhat twisted cartoons, culminating in his new one IT'S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY, the culmination of the "Bill" trilogy (Billogy?) But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Don Hertzfeldt is a multiple-award-winning and staunchly independent animator. Probably most famous for his Oscar-nominated short REJECTED. He also grew up in my current hometown of Fremont, CA, so I can bestow on him the semi-official title of "Pride of Fremont" (former title-holder: MC Hammer). Oh, and he was honored with the San Francisco Film Festival's Persistence of Vision Award last year, and of course I was there. It's arguably not really a "Lifetime Achievement" award, but it's still pretty amazing to get something like that at age 33.

Anyway, on to last Thursday's show, which as I said was to showcase his new film, but I'm getting ahead of myself. We started with WISDOM TEETH, which I think should be the litmus test of whether or not you like Hertzfeldt's undeniably twisted sense of humor. This is actually one of his more recent films, and most twisted (nice to see he isn't entirely mellowing with age).

Other early works shown were BILLY'S BALLOON and INTERMISSION IN THE THIRD DIMENSION (part of THE ANIMATION SHOW 2003 edition).

And then on to the Bill trilogy. When he got the Persistence of Vision award, we were treated to the first two, EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY, and I'M SO PROUD OF YOU. In the first one, we meet Bill--a typical Don Hertzfeldt stick figure who lives in a world that is sometimes also stick figures, sometimes photo-real, and sometimes some strange netherworld. We learn his phobias (grocery store fruit displayed right at crotch level), and his weakening grasp on reality. We learn he has been diagnosed with some condition, and while there are good days and bad, his condition is generally deteriorating. It of course has the twisted Hertzfeldt sense of humor, but there's also a sense of affection for the character and melancholy at his plight. In I'M SO PROUD OF YOU, we learn Bill's family history, going back through several generations of thoroughly messed-up people who tend to get run over by trains.

And finally, IT'S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY. Bill's condition is worsening, and this may just be the end of Bill. Like in the previous two films, there are a lot of meandering detours, so explicating the story is awfully hard. But he has bad days, and good days (when he goes on long walks and enjoys the view). And he goes on long drives, meets people he knows but can't remember. Has a brain test where they shut off one hemisphere of his brain (actually, I can't remember, maybe that was in one of the previous ones, but I think it was this one). He meets his father, who abandoned him with his mother (who had her own dementia problem) as a baby. And then he...well, the movie ends and I don't want to give it away. But let's just say there's something about Bill that will live on forever.

Then afterwards Don got up on stage and answered questions for maybe half an hour. He's a very engaging guy and talked about how important seeing an audiences reaction is, since he often works alone at odd hours and only hopes what he makes will work. And, of course, we made him recount the story from his days as a high school student in Fremont, taking his one and only art class, which was also taught by the shop teacher. I can't do it justice, but the gist is a student accidentally cut off her fingertip in the paper cutter, and after the student was rushed to the nurse the teacher just tossed her fingertip in the trash rather than put it on ice so they could reattach it.

Ahhh...good times!

Total Running Time: 77 minutes
My Total Minutes: 259,276

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Jason watches THE MUPPETS...again. And sober this time.

And it's still awesome. I think my new goal will have to be to get through this movie without crying. Thank god the movie theater is dark. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go stop being sober.

Running Time: 105 (including the short SMALL FRY)
My Total Minutes: 259,204

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Jason watches DR. STRANGELOVE: LIVE!

At the Dark Room. Yeah, they do stuff other than Bad Movie Night there. In fact, they do bad movies and good plays, often (as in this case) based on good movies.

DR STRANGELOVE is, of course, a classic. And this play reminded me why it's one of my favorite movies ever. They do a pretty straightforward take on this, not a lot of jokes that aren't in the film. Often such pop culture plays are parodies of the original, but this is more accurately an homage by people who love the film (it was written and directed by Dark Room owner/operator Jim Fourniadis, who not only claims this as his favorite movie, but met his wife at their first production of DR STRANGELOVE: LIVE! some number of years ago).

The stage is pretty bare and simple, but the energy is excellent, and the cast is spot on. Particularly high marks for Sean Kelly as the titular Dr. Strangelove, Damien Chacona as General Buck Tergidson, and Tim Kay as Group Captain Lionel Mandrake. Even more than the rest of the cast, they became Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sellers.

The only thing I missed from the original was the closing song of "We'll Meet Again." Jim told me they had tried it in earlier productions but it was too somber and he prefers ending on an upbeat note. So instead they played "Dr. Love"

It plays Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays until the 17th. Tickets here.

Oh yeah, and see pics of the performance from my friend Ira here.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Jason goes to Bad Movie Night and watches THE NUTCRACKER: THE UNTOLD STORY

Of course, when it came out last year it was called THE NUTCRACKER IN 3D, but since no one saw it they changed the name on DVD to THE NUTCRACKER: THE UNTOLD STORY. They should have gone with THE NUTCRACKER: THE UNWATCHABLE STORY. Here's all you need to know: Nathan Lane (using his worst German accent) as Albert Einstein, singing about relativity with his god-daughter and god-son (um, yeah...Einstein was Jewish, but he could still be their godfather). Then a bunch of crap happens, a nutcracker dressed as Napoleon comes alive, John Turturro is the Rat King, but I don't give a rat's ass.

I have a horrible feeling this will become a War On Christmas tradition at Bad Movie Night. Shit. You know, it's bad enough waking up with a massive hangover, but then you remember that you were so drunk you watched this piece of crap, and you just want to die.

Running Time: 110 minutes
My Total Minutes: 257,491

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum and sees SUTRO'S: THE PALACE AT LAND'S END

From the maker of several local (SF Bay Area) cult nostalgia films, Tom Wyrsch (WATCH HORROR FILMS, KEEP AMERICA STRONG!, REMEMBERING PLAYLAND AT THE BEACH, BACK TO SPACE-CON).

I'm not old enough to remember when Sutro's existed (besides, I'm not a native to the Bay Area). But I have seen the ruins that are left, by the ocean near the new Cliff House. And, of course, the ruins are featured in HAROLD AND MAUDE, one of my favorite movies.

Originally, Sutro's Baths were a major tourist attraction, back when Adolph Sutro owned the Cliff House (by the way, the story of his life could make for another great movie). The world's largest swimming complex, with heated pools fed directly from the Pacific Ocean. But it was so much more, both in its original incarnation and in its future lives. It was always a huge glass building. But it was also a skating rink at one point, and the home to several odd museums. There was a mummy exhibit, a museum of torture, the Musée Mécanique (which now lives on Fisherman's Wharf, I stumbled across it with my dad a few year's back. I didn't even know the history at the time). Anyway, the film showcases a veritable treasure trove of vintage photographs and artifacts, as well as interviews with history buffs and other people with fond memories of the place, and like all Tom Wyrsch films, Ernie "HARDWAR WARS" Fosselius has to show up. And most haunting, it contains home movie footage of the place burning down in 1966.

It's an odd accomplishment, this movie has made me nostalgic for a place I've never been. In fact, for a place that was gone before I was even alive.

Running Time: 84 minutes
My Total Minutes: 257,373

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum and sees BEAU GESTE

But first, as always, a couple of shorts.

THE GIRL IN THE ARMCHAIR (1912): Back in the really early days, when female directors were respected if they were good. Alice Guy made this little romantic drama about a young lady who is sent to live with family friends after her father passes away. She immediately falls in love with the young man of the family, but he doesn't feel the same way. And all her inheritance doesn't change that...until he needs some money and she helps him out of a jam. Mostly kind of a cheesy story, but I did love the card-playing nightmare sequence.

A SMALL TOWN PRINCESS (1927): A Mack Sennet Comedy starring Billy Bevan and bathing beauty Madeline Hurlock. They live in a small Iowa town, perhaps the last young Iowans who haven't moved out to Southern California. But when a movie star gets off the train for a bit on his way back to Hollywood, she gets the fame and fortune bug. So she borrows a fancy dress from the store she works at, and goes on a vacation posing as a Russian princess. And a couple of producers decide they can make a lot of money if they put her in the pictures (and pay her way too much). And, of course, wacky hijinks ensue.

Then a brief intermission, and our feature.

BEAU GESTE (1926): I saw this when it played before in Niles, back in February of last year. Here's what I wrote then:
Famously remade many times, I've seen no versions, and so I've started with the first [Note: I've still seen no other versions]. The movie opens with a battalion of the French Foreign Legion approaching a fort, warned of an impending Arab attack. They find a mysterious scene. First a trumpeter goes over the wall, and disappears. So the captain goes over. He finds everyone dead (but propped up on the walls to appear as a defending force). The fort's commander is dead, with a french bayonet in his back. Another corpse is holding a letter of confession about a sapphire called "The Blue Water". The captain opens the gate, walks out, and starts describing the scene to his men. And then the fort spontaneously catches fire, and burns to the ground. The rest of the movie is about getting us back to that scene.

Flash back to the Geste brothers--Michael (Beau), John, and Digby--as young boys in England. They're from an aristocratic family, and play at being soldiers. The Blue Water is a family treasure. But the family is on hard times, and has to sell it. So Beau steals it and runs away, or so says his note. In fact, John claims he's only covering for him, and he runs away too. And Digby does the same, all covering for each other. And they all, to escape their self-condemnation, join the French Foreign Legion. There they are split up, but the bonds of brotherhood are stronger than any bond, and they brave the desert, a sadistic commander, attack by Arabs, and a plot to steal Blue Water. All ending in a viking funeral in the desert.
Yup, that's certainly what it's about, and I have nothing to add. It's still exciting. In February 2010 we had John Marsalis playing the Kurzweil organ, so we had trumpets, guns and winds. Last night, we had Judith Rosenberg on the piano, making it up as it went along. She had never even seen the film before. That always amazes me how people can do that.

Total Running Time: 139 minutes
My Total Minutes: 257,296

Jason watches IN TIME

And given the concept, I have to resist the temptation to say it wasted nearly 2 hours of my time.

Confession: I have a soft spot for high-concept sci-fi, especially the way they use ridiculous constructions of the future as analogies for modern issues. But I wasn't really excited about this film because the trailer just didn't look that good--looked like no subtlety in either the concept or execution. That was just compounded when I heard they stole the idea for a Harlan Ellison short story, and weren't giving him credit (to be fair, they also stole ideas from Bonnie & Clyde and Robin Hood). But recently a couple of different friends told me it was worth seeing, so I decided to check it out.


Eh, I could've missed it. The concept was interesting enough, if completely unsubtle. In the future, instead of money we use time. On your 25th birthday you stop aging, but a clock grows in your arm that counts down from 1 year. You can add or subtract time like money from a checking account, but when the clock counts down to zero, you die. So the rich are immortal, but in order for a few to be immortal, many must die. Justin Timberlake stars as Will Salas, a poor 28 year old (or "25 for 3 years") living in the ghetto day-to-day. Literally, he rarely has more than 24 hours on his clock. But then he meets a rich guy drinking in a ghetto bar with over a century on his arm. That's just asking to be mugged and killed. So Will saves him, only to learn that the guy wanted to die--he's tired of life, how the rich are immortal but never really live, and how the system is rigged specifically to keep the masses poor--the cost of living goes up because people have to die or else we wouldn't have any room. So while their sleeping, the mysterious century-aire gives Will nearly all his time and goes off to die. And then Will uses that time to first get into the rich guys club and then when he's discovered and tracked down by a Timekeeper (Cillian Murphy), he works with a rich man's impetuous daughter (Amanda Seyfried) to bring down the whole system.

There's some okay action, but given the promising concept it fails to rise above a standard action flick. The problem is there are two many potentially intriguing philosophical ideas that just aren't explored. With every adult a perpetual 25 years old, fathers, sons, mothers, daughters are all the same age--that could be interesting, but it feels more like an excuse to only cast attractive youngsters rather than anyone with a single damn wrinkle. The Timekeeper keeps saying that giving away time is more dangerous than stealing it, but the "why" of that is never really explained (seems like a knee-jerk "communism is bad!" reaction, rather than any true insight). The idea that the poor die all the time but the rich never really live is mentioned, but then goes nowhere. I get the feeling that if this were a TV series (and the writing was better, maybe actually do more than thank Ellison, bring him in at least as a consultant) they would have time to flesh out these ideas and explore them from all angles, and that would be a lot more interesting.

Running Time: 109 minutes
My Total Minutes: 257,132

Jason revises his total movie minutes

My few readers who actually care might notice in my last post my total minutes actually went down. Allow me to explain.

See, I've been tracking the total number of movies I've seen since 2005, but I've only been tracking the number of minutes since the start of 2010 (when I saw UP IN THE AIR and decided the movie watching equivalent of 10 million miles is 1 million minutes). But rather than start at zero I allowed myself to start with the time I've spent watching movies since I started tracking them.

At first, I estimated 90 minutes per movie (feature length program, be it a feature, a program of shorts, or a short + feature). I figured that was low, and I was okay with underestimating my total minutes.

But always, in my free time, I would look back at my records and calculate the totals for previous years. Some time back I finished finding the running time for everything I saw in 2009. It turned out my average time/movie in 2009 was just over 97.5 minutes. So I did two things to adjust my estimate of the total minutes. First, I included the actual running time instead of an estimated time for 2009. Second, for the movies prior to 2009 I used my 2009 average of 97.51126 as the estimated time/movie.

Well, I've just finished calculating the total running time for 2008. And I've updated my calculation in a few ways:

First, of course, I'm using actual values for everything from 2008 on. As of today, that's 1663 movies (feature length programs) with a total running time of 160,804 minutes, for an average of 96.69512928 minutes/movie.

Second, I've updated my estimate for pre-2008 movies using this average. That's 995 movies for a total estimated running time of 96,212 minutes (rounded off).

Third, and most importantly, I've automated the calculation of a new average time/movie based on every new running time I enter into my records. This is the most important part because it means when I add a movie and a running time, it doesn't just add to my total minutes. It also recalculates my estimate of pre-2008 movies. So if I see a film with a higher than average running time, not only are those minutes added to the total but the average goes up and adds even more to my total. The converse, of course, if I see something below the average running time.

In the meantime, I will, of course, continue to find more accurate records of the minutes I've spent watching movies pre-2008.

I'm posting this because I'm sure you all really come to my movie review blog to read about math.

A few side notes:
  • 2009 actually had my highest average running time of any year I've calculated so far
  • 2011 is pretty far below average, currently at just 96.092. That might not seem like much, but a half minute over the course of 400 movies is quite a bit. Especially odd since I've had some 4+ hour epics in there.
  • Even with looking up the running times for everything, there is still some guesswork. Occasionally movies have different versions in different festivals or different countries, and vary by a few minutes. More importantly, a lot of silent films don't have set running times, since the projection speed was variable. I do my best to estimate and have noted the ones which I haven't found a listed running time. In general, my rule of thumb if I don't know is to give a silent film 10 minutes per reel. I think this is actually a pretty drastic underestimate, and that is intentional. I'd rather undercount than overcount.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Jason watches THE SKIN I LIVE IN

There's just something way too right about Pedro Almodóvar and Antonio Banderas teaming up for a bit of perversion, revenge, and madness. Banderas plays a famous if unscrupulous plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard. Early on, in addressing his colleagues, he talks about how our face is our identity. Burn victims don't just need to survive, they need a face that can show expressions, even if you have to take that face off a corpse. He, in fact, has participated in 3 of the 9 face transplants in the world. And now he has invented an artificial skin that is stronger than any human skin--impervious to burns and insects.

Then we see him go home and tend to his patient/captive, Vera (Elena Anaya). He comes bearing a gift of opium, but she has tried to kill herself. We know something is wrong with her, but we don't find out what for quite a while (and when I realized, it was a beautiful Oh-My-God! moment). Little by little, the madness is revealed, triggered by an attack by the housekeeper's son, who is dressed as a tiger for Carnival. We find first that Vera's face is remarkably similar to Robert's late wife. And then we find...another big surprise, which I won't ruin. But it certainly explores some interesting ideas about physical form and identity.

Almodóvar has done a fine job of romanticizing deviant behavior before, for me most memorably in TIE ME UP! TIE ME DOWN! (also happens to be my introduction to Almodóvar). Here he doesn't quite go the romantic route as much as the outrageous route. And I was certainly on board to enjoy the ride.

Running Time: 117
My Total Minutes: 257,016