Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Monday, February 27, 2012
Saturday, February 25, 2012
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Say it with me, folks, it's the penultimate night!
Actually, it's all over but the writing. This year I ended the festival with just 4 shows (2 nights) to finish writing up. Not bad.
First up was the short THE UNADVENTUROUS LIFE OF AI: THE MARRIAGE OF AI AND JIM. This is actually the second in a 3-part series on the UNADVENTUROUS LIFE OF AI. In this one, Ai is married to Jim (not James, or Jimmy, or Jimbo, just Jim.) But they don't really have a traditional marriage. They see other people (or rather, she sees people, he watches porn.) Their therapist has them slap each other. And they are hateful and competitive to the point where Ai wants to kill Jim. In other words, true love? Pretty funny.
Speaking of love, the feature was JUKO'S TIME MACHINE. I'm a total sucker for time travel movies, and this is sort of the rom-com take on TIMECRIMES. Juko has loved Rory since he first saw her in grade school. He has also been afraid to talk to her since then (he's now about 30.) His best friend Jed has always been there to help him. They've both been inventors since grade school, and their inventions have always been about winning Rory. But now, it seems that the dream is finally over--Rory is getting married. Wait, there's one last invention that could work--a time machine! But, of course, Jed and Juko don't get it right the first time so they have to go back again...and again...and again, with the extra complication that if a past self sees a future self the "exponent goes to infinity" and they both blink out of existence. That would be bad. But this movie is good, and lots of fun. A lot of the fun is watching Juko get more and more confident every time as things get worse and worse--he's got problems of existence to worry about, so talking to the girl he loves is no big deal.
And then we ended the night on a completely different note with MONSTERS CLUB, by Indiefest super-veteran Toyoda Toshiaki who previously played at Indiefest with BLUE SPRING (Indiefest 2002), 9 SOULS (2004), HANGING GARDEN (2006), and THE BLOOD OF REBIRTH (2010). As an aside, Indiefest should clearly do retrospective screenings of PORNOSTAR and his documentary UNCHAIN just so we can complete his filmography as a director.
Anyway, MONSTERS CLUB is at times beautiful and at times completely unsettling. In an isolated cabin in a beautiful, snow-draped woods, Ryoichi fends for himself and tinkers around with mailbombs that he sends to CEOs and TV networks responsible for the scourge of advertising (for the record, although his lifestyle is inspired by the Unabomber, his philosophy is somewhat different. Ryoichi seems to have a general grudge against advertising, consumerist culture, and the system. Kaczynski had a beef about how modern convenience robs us of the freedom to pursue what he called the "power process" which is never addressed in this movie...but I digress.) One night, a mysterious creature with a face covered in white foam with red lips and a blue eyes visits him. And then things get really weird, involving the ghost of his brother (who committed suicide, which is something of a recurring theme for Toyoda) family secrets, and eventually him smearing white foam on his face and becoming the monster himself (the scene where he's riding the train covered in face foam and the passengers move away from him is pretty funny.) I reiterate, it's a film that is at once beautiful and unsettling, but beyond that I'm not really sure what to make of this oddity.
Total Running Time: 155 minutes
My Total Minutes: 267,553
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Monday, February 20, 2012
Saturday, February 18, 2012
Friday, February 17, 2012
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Wow, I'm exhausted and I haven't even quite reached the halfway point. This used to be easier. I think I have extra stresses dragging my spirits down.
Aaah, enough of my whining, let's get to the movies.
The first program started with the short CIGARETTES AND DEATH. Two girls become instant friends based on the most tenuous of connections--the desire to commit suicide. Specifically, one wants to die young and pretty, one is just obsessed with death and wants to watch her die. Very cool and funny.
That was paired with the feature film, GREEN. This was one I was very excited to see. It was directed by and stars Sophia Takal, the star of GABI ON THE ROOF IN JULY. It stars her, her partner and GABI director Lawrence Levine, and Kate Lyn Sheil (Julia in THE COLOR WHEEL.) Oh yeah, I was even more excited when I learned they were frequent collaborators with the team from THE COLOR WHEEL (director/star Alex Ross Perry appears in a brief party scene in the beginning.) Which is all to say that maybe I had built up my expectations too high, because my first reaction was disappointment. I don't know, it just didn't quite grab me like these other movies did. My second reaction was that I should give it another chance. There's a lot to acknowledge is well done in this movie. In particular, I liked the realism of the small talk chatter--there's something charming about three people sitting around a campfire naming as many cheeses as they can think of. And I liked the culture clash of hipsters vs. hicks. And although I've never been a woman, nor one who is prone to jealousy, I am told that the portrayal of friendship turning into paranoid jealousy (one meaning of the "Green" of the title) is accurate and insightful.
Genevieve and Sebastian (Sheil and Levine) are New York intellectuals who go to the countryside so he can try a season of organic farming and write about it (in one particularly funny scene, he complains about clearing rocks and if he can't get his crops planted he'll have nothing to write about. Talk about misplaced priorities, most people plant crops so they'll have something to eat.) There they meet local girl Robin (Takal, sporting quite a hick accent.) Since Sebastian is absorbed in his farming/writing, Genevieve and Robin become friends. And soon they are frequently dining together and talking like friends (although there's always a bit of smug intellectual superiority that Sebastian and Genevieve feel towards Robin.) Soon that transitions into Robin and Sebastian being closer friends and Genevieve getting all paranoid (including paranoid fantasy sequences featuring Robin and Sebastian getting it on, so that's nice.) And then it ends in a somewhat shocking way, that to me felt like an unfinished thought.
Oh, I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention some projection problems. I'm hesitant to blame my disappointment on this, because I'm a proponent of the philosophy that if you're paying attention to the projection rather than the story, the story has already lost you. But with that said, the Little Roxie is not a great place to watch movies (which is a shame, because they often play great movies.) There was the normal warping of the screen which is always an issue but I've pretty much trained my eyes to see around it. The resolution was poor, and there were scenes where the lighting was blown out--I'm not sure if these were in the movie (and intentional) or the projection was just bad. And there were a few minutes early in the movie where the image was (for lack of a better word) pulsating. I'm pretty sure that wasn't intentional. And I really only mention this because I know some people who saw THE COLOR WHEEL in the Little Roxie and didn't like it. They specifically mentioned how bad it looked. But I saw it in the Big Roxie and it looked great. So I can't help but wonder if I saw it on a better screen if GREEN would also be better.
In any case, I was back in the Big Roxie for the second show of the night, SIRONIA. Based on the music (and more loosely inspired by the life) of Wes Cunningham, who plays Thomas. Thomas was a successful singer/songwriter. He had a moderately successful first album, and just finished recording his second. But the studio heads don't like it, the singer/songwriter thing isn't hot anymore, and so they decide to bury it (and him). The only work his agent (Jeremy Sisto, in a fine cameo) can get him is writing songs for a brainless pop star to sing for a movie soundtrack. He hates this, it's beneath him, and so he and his newly pregnant wife Molly (Amy Acker) move to Sironia, Texas (actually, Waco) to be near Molly's brother Chad (Tony Hale) and his family (particularly cute is Stella Otto as little Heather, who adores her uncle Thomas.) There they experience a bit of culture shock, but Thomas actually kind of digs the "real life" with all it's simple quirks like mutton busting. But "real life" doesn't go all that well with being really broke. So Thomas takes a job he doesn't really like (helped along by Chad) but never really gives up on his dream. Which is a problem, because his dream isn't working out and he starts replacing it with getting drunk hitting on college girls. In a way, this movie is the antidote for the inspirational "never give up on your dreams" movie. It's a more realistic take, a sort of "if your dreams don't work and chasing your dream is destroying your family, maybe you should try a different dream and who knows, maybe you'll love it" story. Chad tells a story in the movie that I think sums it up pretty well. He talks about how he went to law school and his plan was always to ace the bar exam and then get a high paying job in a prestigious firm. Then he failed the bar (a few times.) And moved to Sironia, took a few jobs, ending up working for a community service organization, found out he loved it, and now he's saving the world (or his little corner of it) and probably happier than he would have been otherwise. A nice message, solid acting, well made film, and oh yeah, the music is pretty darn good, too (and everyone at the screening got a CD of five songs from the movie.)
And that was last Wednesday at Indiefest. More to come soon.
Total Running Time: 188
My Total Minutes: 265,717
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
And I ended the night with LOVE BITES: The 80's Power Ballad Sing-along. I got drunk with a lot of weirdos, we played old hair band love ballad videos, and sang along as loud as possible while still heckling the videos. It's exactly what it sounds like, and it was much more fun than it had any right to be. And since I do have the hair for it, I even got up in the front and head-banged to Shot Through the Heart to end the show. That's not something I thought I would do...ever.Well, I don't have the hair for it anymore. So I put on a blue punk wig and rocked out anyway. It was still way too much fun, even when they ran out of free whiskey. FYI, based on the hangover I still kind of feel two days later, I think I'm solely responsible for them running out of whiskey.
Sunday, February 12, 2012
Wrapping up the big first weekend, and I feel...like I've survived...so far.
First up was a short documentary followed by a long discussion. The movie was DEFAULT: THE STUDENT LOAN DOCUMENTARY, about the crisis in student loan debt. When I graduated 15 years ago, I had a good chunk of student loan debt (I don't remember the exact amount, but safe to say I went to a fairly expensive private university.) But it was low interest (some even no-interest) with fairly reasonable terms and I actually paid if off early. I, like so many people in this movie, was told that student loan debt was "good" debt and I'll get a good job and I'll be able to pay it off. For me, that was true. But damn, a lot has changed since then--school is more expensive, there are fewer grants, and the loans have worse terms (and no bankruptcy protection! Since I didn't default on my loans, I don't actually know if I was protected back then, but damn!) The thing is, when these students were 18 they were all getting advice from people in my generation or older. For our generations, student loan debt was good debt. But if this movie (and the panel discussion after) is to be believed, not any more. It's eye-opening, but at under 30 minutes it's about the right length to barely start a conversation. I'm sure there's 90 minutes of material that could be in there, like how did the situation get to be like this, or how do we fix it?
But at least we had a panel discussion/extended Q&A with the filmmakers and activists. And that had some interesting bits of extra information, both bad and good. On the bad side, did you know when applying for a job they can ask for your credit report and screen you out because of bad credit (which is often due to student loans?) How the hell do people think you'll pay it off if you can't get a job? On the good side, more and more schools are offering their curriculum online for free (you just need to pay if you actually want to attend classes and get a degree, but the information is free.) Apparently, you can get the entire London School of Economics MBA curriculum online for free. So...if you can prove to a prospective employer that you know your stuff even though you don't have a diploma, you don't need to pay a dime for college. So I guess we got that going for us?
Then next up was a food doc, IN ORGANIC WE TRUST. Despite the title, it really only spends the first part of the movie investigating organic food, framing it with "man on the street" interviews revealing what we know (or think we know) about organic food: It's healthier...not really. But it doesn't use toxic pesticides. It's more environmentally sound...not really, sustainable != organic, although there is plenty of overlap--farmers who care about organic also tend to care about sustainability. Where the movie really takes off is when it leaves behind the questions of certified organic and moves on to the bigger issues--sustainability, local food, diet-related health care costs (that cheap processed food is more expensive in the long run), school lunches, etc. It throws a lot of information at the audience, and for a San Francisco audience it's mostly stuff you've heard before. But it is well put together and a good introduction to the breadth of the issues. And it plays again closing night, Thursday the 23rd, at 7:15.
Next up was a painfully, awkwardly innocent drama, GIRLFRIEND. Evan (Evan Sneider) is a really sweet guy. He loves his mother, loves calling people on the phone just to say hello, loves soap operas, and is ready with a hug for anyone in town. Oh yeah, and he has Down's Syndrome (as does the actor, and he totally steals the show.) He also has a crush on Candy (Shannon Woodward), and plays really well with her son. He even gets along well with her ex, even though he obviously has ulterior motives. And this is really the crux of the movie--this innocent guy who is surrounded by people with ulterior motives. In a way, when he comes into enough money to woo Candy, this makes things worse. She's not interested in him romantically, but she likes him as a friend and is in no position to turn down the money (she's months behind in rent and her ex isn't paying the child support he owes.) So I wrote in the first line of this review that it's painfully, awkwardly innocent. Seeing such a sweet, innocent guy approach the girl knowing his advances aren't going to work is painful. Even more painful is watching him interact with her ex (especially when he explains that she likes it rough, you just know that's not going to end well.) I don't want to get into spoilers, so I won't tell you if it eventually ends well or if Evan is resilient enough to not be corrupted by all the people around him. But I will say that I was definitely rooting for him. GIRLFRIEND plays again Tuesday the 14th at 9:30.
So after all that innocence, I could totally use a good dose of sleaze, and I got just that with THE DISCO EXORCIST. I'm really, really impressed by the trailer--impressed that they could find a couple of minutes worth of footage that didn't have any titties in it! Oh yeah, it's practically porn. It's the story of disco super-stud Rex Romanski and Rita Marie, the satanist chick who he romances and then dumps. But to be fair, he dumps her for his favorite porn star, Amoreena Jones. Also, to be fair, it was pretty well set up that he's a hump-and-dump kinda guy. Anyway, after Rita is embarrassed on the disco floor, she curses Amoreena, and the movie changes from naked, drugged up people everywhere to naked, drugged up, bloody people everywhere. It is kind of a one-note joke, but it is my favorite note ever. And the intentionally cheesy lines, lighting, and dialogue may be off-putting to some, but are totally in keeping with the look of a cheap 70's exploitation flick. It's a nice guilty pleasure. Anyway, that was the last screening in Indiefest, sorry! But I assume it'll be on DVD soon enough. Just keep an eye on their Scorpio Films website.
And finally, I ended the night with a real oddity, FINISTERRAE. I'll start off by saying I'm pretty sure I didn't like it. I was pretty frankly bored a lot of the time, and I know I dozed off in bits (in fairness, I was pretty exhausted. That was the end of a 14-film weekend.) But it's also a film I haven't been able to stop thinking about since. Two Russian ghosts (played by people wearing a sheets with eye-holes) walk across Spain to find new bodies to inhabit. Somehow if they get to the holy city of Santiago de Compostela they will become corporeal. I learned later that first time feature director Sergio Caballero shot the images first and put the dialog in later. So we get ghosts walking through the countryside, often one is riding a horse and the other is carrying a windsock. Or we get a ghost on horseback inside a ring of fire while the other one stands outside. And we get Russian dialog added on whether or not it matches the action (as a side question, why Russian if the film is Spanish? On the other hand, I know a local filmmaker who shot an entire feature in Russian despite not speaking it.) Perhaps it was exhaustion, but the film just didn't catch me in the moment, although I remember laughing at bits of it. But it is certainly a film that I can't help still thinking about. I don't think I've ever been so bored by a movie that had a scene with boobies and a scene in which a hippie gets shot. That was the last screening in Indiefest, sorry! But it is available at least on foreign import (PAL format) DVD.
Total Running Time: 363 minutes
My Total Minutes: 265,220
Saturday, February 11, 2012
And I'm already dragging. Didn't get much sleep last night. Long story, and it was nothing serious, but a little police activity delay on my bus home cost me about an hour of valuable sleep time. Maybe the movies will be boring today so I can make some of it up.Nope, no such luck. Not that they were all great, but as I draft this write-up on the bus home I saw six movies and except for a few minutes in one of them I didn't sleep through any.
First up was MOTHER COUNTRY, a rather interesting road trip movie with some great acting (particularly star Thomas Galasso) and some not-as-great writing. Galasso plays Dwight, an African American in Austin. He seems to be a bright, good young man but not strong enough to resist his cousin when he puts a gun in his hand and insists he must help him get revenge. Things go wrong and he ends up on the run, on foot across the desert. His goal is to get to his old high school teacher's place in California. But along the way...well, to avoid spoilers let's just say there are difficulties all along the way. And, at the risk of generalizing, those difficulties all seem to center on race issues, questions of personal responsibility, or both. In the end, we're supposed to believe he has learned a lesson and will make an important choice. I just saw his choice as very naive, and it won't work out the way he thinks it will. I'm sorry to be so vague, but I'm struggling with spoilers here. If you've seen the movie, I can talk about it more. And if you haven't, your last chance is today (Sunday the 12th) at 5 pm.
Next up was the shorts program An Animated World. Yay cartoons (and other forms of animation)!
(BABY) ITS YOU: The robot Frankenstein of love. Cool stop-motion animation.
WALTZ OF THE DEMON KING: Very cool story of warriors, the demon king, and the unconquerable love of a big sister.
ATTACK OF THE KILLER MUTANT CHICKENS: It's exactly what it sounds like, with the extra bonus of being Bangladeshi. Awesome.
THE NATURAL ORDER OF THINGS: Robot naturalists in search of phosphorescent rabbits. Yay, glow-bunnies!
THE REALITY CLOCK: Lots of clocks, but reality still seems to be disintegrating. Perhaps a visualization of the struggle with a deteriorating mind.
SHERMAN: Minimally animated over still pictures, it tells the story of a decaying house from the point of view of an abandoned, imaginary friend.
BEING BRADFORD DILLMAN: The hilarious story of a little girl whose drunk mother tells her how she was born a boy but she wanted a girl so she asked the doctor to cut her willy off.
ANIMEDITATION: A cool, simply drawn bit of surrealism--shapes, faces, etc.
EVIL: A music video for Marble Hill, all about what is considered evil--dancing gorillas, samurai, boats in the sky, brains, alien invasions. Maybe evil is just your opinion, man. But that gorilla head flying around with arms is evil, I don't care what anyone says.
MASKS: First the score was written, then the animator invented this story to match the music. It's a story of mask-wearing giants who eat the little white people
KISS: A gorgeous black-and-white film of the mingling of the sun and moon during an eclipse, set to Bjork-ish music. Made I 3-D, but shown in 2-D here (it's still beautiful.)
TIME FOR CHANGE: This was easily my favorite, the secret life and troubled marriage of the characters who ring in the hour on the big town clock.
THE MAN WITH THE STOLEN HEART: And when he finds his heart, it's irretrievably connected to another.
BRUCKE: In the swinging post-WWI world, a disabled veteran struggles to fit in.
An Animated World plays again Wednesday the 15th at 7:15.
Then I saw a pretty interesting feature I LIKE YOU. I was surprised to find out the actors were amateurs (and real high school students), because they were excellent. I was a bit surprised to learn director Jamie Heinrich was a veteran filmmaker, but I wasn't surprised to learn he had made shorts but this was his first feature. In principle it's a very simple teenage love story. Avery (Mike Brenna) is smitten with Parker, the new girl in class (Parker Peterson), even though she has a boyfriend who is likely to beat the crap out of him. Plus his band mate and best friend Echo (Brian Boush) also likes her, and it's not clear at first if Parker even likes him. I found it very odd and challenging how individual scenes were great but seemed to end in the middle and not lead directly in to the next scene. It would jump from Avery talking to Preston to fighting with Echo or talking to his uncle without a lot of connecting tissue. But in a way that reflects the fractured, compartmentalized, multi-faceted life of a young man in love. So maybe that actually worked. Or maybe I'm being too generous. In any case, the aerial shots of them on the railroad bridge were pretty awesome. I LIKE YOU plays again Tuesday the 14th at 7:15.
And then one of the highlights of the festival, Belgium's Oscar nominee, BULLHEAD. It's a story of mafia and growth hormones in Flanders. Mostly illegal amounts of bovine growth hormones to increase the size and price of cattle. But there's also the cocktail of testosterone supplements that protagonist (it's impossible to call anyone in this dark, violent film a "hero") Jacky takes. That is a result of a squirm-inducing childhood incident, and let's just leave it at that. In the tense aftermath of a murder of a "hormone cop" there's a new cattle mafia deal in the works that brings up Jacky's traumatic past, and that just ends up being bad news for everyone. Excellent acting (I particularly liked seeing Sam Louwyck of EX-DRUMMER and 22ND OF MAY show up as a mafia boss, and it amuses me that I have a favorite Belgian character actor) and a good story with enough twists that I'm sure it would reward multiple viewings, if you can stomach that. BULLHEAD plays again Monday the 13th at 7:15.
Then I saw a really daring and novel documentary/narrative hybrid, SNOW ON THA BLUFF. According to a statement from the director, the beginning and ending were staged but everything in between is raw documentary footage, but I'm not sure I believe that (there is at least one scene where the subjects had to have been mic'ed, they were too far away from the camera for the built-in microphone to pick them up so clearly.) In any case, here is the story as presented: a drug gang steals a documentary crews camera, shoots their activity for several days, then drops of the footage to an editing house to make this film. That footage includes doing drugs, stealing drugs, shooting rival gangs, getting shot at, gratuitous nudity, and a surprisingly tender and innocent love of their children. To be honest, I had trouble following the story or the characters. I hope that has more to do with the raw nature of the footage--no establishing shots defining the characters and their relationships--and less to do with me being a racist who can't tell one black drug dealer from another. In any case, I spent almost the whole film awash in disbelief at the raw visceralness of this unique view into such a crazy fucking world. That is, except for the few minutes I nodded off. Hey, I was tired and this was my fifth film of the night. SNOW ON THE BLUFF plays again Thursday the 16th at 9:30.
And finally, I ended the night with a delightfully sick torture comedy, CHOP by Trent Haaga (writer of DEAD GIRL) and starring Tromeo himself, Will Keenan, who was there for the screening and is an awesome live wire. Will (credited as Billy Bakshi) plays Lance Reed, a seemingly normal guy who gets caught up in a hellish situation. It seems he has offended a stranger (Timothy Muskatell) who demands a sincere apology or he will make Lance's life a short, torturous hell. First he forces Lance to...do something horrible (must...avoid...spoilers.) Then when Lance doesn't play entirely by his rules, he systematically removes everything important to Lance...like his wife...or his limbs. And as Lance tries desperately to remember his infraction, he confesses to increasingly horrible behavior (turns out he used to be quite the drug-addicted asshole, and maybe he doesn't exactly deserve to survive this.) It's hilariously sick and twisted, with loads of insane characters--a detective who get off on solving weird torture cases, a crippled drug-dealer, his Conrad Bain-obsessed pervert bear cousin, and a blackmailing hooker to name just a few. Quite an unforgettable and hilarious experience. CHOP plays again Monday the 13th at 9:30 (and Will Keenan will be there again)
Total Running Time: 543 minutes
My Total Minutes: 264,857