Thursday, March 8, 2012

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 9

Wednesday was officially my slacker day--only 4 movie. That's because I had one last recurring meeting I had to call in for related to my previous job, so I couldn't make it down in time for the first show of the day. But I did have time for a quick snack at Psycho Donuts (proud member of the Cinequest Dining Circle.)

So I started the day with BEAT DOWN, a movie with an engaging and fun premise, but didn't quite work due to all the one-dimensional characters. Fran's one dimension is she's a tomboy who likes wrestling. Her dad's one dimension is he's the stern but troubled single dad who forbids her to wrestle. And even on first meeting him, you know the catharsis of the movie is going to revolve around his breakthrough, accepting his past, and letting her wrestle. And so she moves away, hooks up with a local touring troupe of wrestlers, and goes on a craaazy ride. And by all rights, it should have been more fun. But I could just never get into these one dimensional characters. It's not even that I disliked it, I was just disappointed. I was even ready to walk around Cinequest all day blurting out, "Craaazy ride!" but that's been overtaken by an even better line, which I will get to shortly.

Then I saw THE KING (KO), the Bollywood movie of this year's Cinequest. I must confess, the closest theater to my apartment in Fremont is a Bollywood theater, and years ago I spent a lot of time there immersing myself in Bollywood cinema. And then I got tired of it, and I don't really do that anymore. But the festival write-up promised "no song and dance" and instead an "action packed, lightly comedic, and delightfully smart political thriller." Well, they got the second half right, but be warned there are still the requisite Bollywood song and dance numbers, just maybe to a lesser degree.

In any case, it was a lot of fun, and the hero Ashwin (Jeeva) is a likeable, charismatic, and dashing figure. He's a motorcycle-riding, heroic photojournalist, who in the opening scenes snaps photos of a gang of bank robbers that get three of the four captured and sent to prison. That not only makes him a local hero, it improves the reputation of his newspaper. He--and the lovely Renuka (Karthika Nair) then spend the next 2+ hours uncovering horrible corrupt politicians. Which turns out to be pretty good for youth candidate Vasanthan (Ajmal Ameer.) But Vasanthan turns out to be Ashwin's old college friend, and maybe Ashwin's tireless uncovering of corrupt politicians isn't as pure-hearted as it seems. In fact, there always seems to be one final twist, and one more layer of corruption in this surprisingly engaging and surprisingly pessimistic film.

THE KING plays again March 10 at 9:15 pm (after the closing night film, when I'll be partying heavily.)

Then I went to the show that's always one of my highlights, Shorts 5: Mindbenders. I bent my mind in the following ways:
CUSHING'S SYNDROME: It bent my mind when the TOP GUN enthusiast joked about child rape and killed people. Then Goose died, in this movie that really embraced Cinequest's longstanding theme of "Maverick."
CHARLES BUKOWSKI'S THE LITTLE TAILOR: It bent my mind when the phone sex enthusiast didn't take care of all the dead bodies that were piling up.
CURTAIN: It bent my mind when the shower curtain really was there to keep the succubus trapped. Also, when Mr. Pokey-Man made his entrance...if you know what I mean.
BLOOD ROULETTE: It bent my mind when...pretty much everything in this bent my mind. Peace on Earth and Goo to Man, indeed. And the new winning line of Cinequest is "Dance for me, you carbon-based whore!"
A FUNCTION: It bent my mind when that Japanese girl had so much trouble solving that equation. Call me racist, but I thought they were supposed to be good at math? She could barely solve it to save her life.
THE LAST GUEST: It bent my mind when that one last drink between friends turned into a life-or-death confrontation.
MASK (MASKA): It bent my mind when the Quay brothers did their take on this Stanislaw Lem story (that I haven't read.) The life cycle of a bride/praying mantis. Utterly beautiful and mind-bending even when I didn't know what the heck was going on.

Shorts 5: Mindbenders plays again on March 10 at 9:30 (when I'll be at the closing night party.)

And then I ended the night with SONS OF NORWAY, by festival alum Jens Lien (JOHNNY VANG, THE BOTHERSOME MAN.) There's certainly a reason we're so fond of him at Cinequest, as he has made another movie full of weird energy, wacky characters, an engaging story, and a lot of heart. We open with a family celebrating the strangest Christmas ever--the celebration of bananas. The father, Magnus, is an unusual rebel and free spirit, seeming to hold on to every last ounce of youthful hi jinks. So he explains that since they are all descended from apes, they will spend this Christmas celebrating their ape nature by feasting on the food of apes and going bananas. All is well in this wacky, wacky family, especially for middle son Nikolaj, the real heart of the film. And then...tragedy strikes. And Magnus falls into a deep depression. And Nikolaj becomes a punk, obsessing over the Sex Pistols (eventually, Johnny Rotten even makes a cameo appearance.) But eventually Magnus snaps out of his depression, and finds new life in Nikolaj's rebellion. Which--as anyone who remembers anything about being a kid will know--completely ruins everything. I mean, it's great when your dad stands up for you, and there is one great scene that got the whole audience (or at least the whole front row) clapping. But more than anything kids like to rebel against their fathers, so it really screws everything up when your dad is more of a nonconformist (and nudist, yikes!) than you are.

SONS OF NORWAY plays again March 8 (that's tonight!) at 9:30 pm.

Total Running Time: 418 minutes
My Total Minutes: 217,471

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