Friday, April 20, 2012

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 2

I skipped opening night because I had already seen the film. It would've been nice to see the whole gang and go to the party, but there will be plenty of that in the next two weeks. Anyway, on to the movies as my festival officially starts.

I officially said hello to the festival with GOODBYE, a film by Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof. Much like Jafar Panahi of THIS IS NOT A FILM, Mohammad has received a prison sentence and 20 year ban on filmmaking (currently both are under appeal.) In fact, he smuggled this film out of Iran, and I'm pretty glad he did. It's the story of a young woman living alone (her husband, a political journalist, is absent) and desperately trying to emigrate. She enters into some shady business trying to get a visa, meanwhile the police harass her looking (presumably) for her husband's writing. And even dealing with normal business like getting a hotel room for the night or getting the deposit back on her apartment, the male-centric society insists on dealing with her absent husband rather than her. It's a pretty compelling look at a woman in a troubling situation, and the static, claustrophobic cinematography echoes and amplifies her plight. But it also suffers from a common problem of Iranian films (at least for me)--a deadeningly slow pace. I think it was said best by the couple sitting behind me--the Iranians just have a different clock from us. But still, I know plenty of people who love the slow, contemplative, slice-of-life pace typical of Iranian films, and if you like that you'll probably love this film.

GOODBYE plays again April 21 at 1:00 pm and April 23 at 6:30 pm, both times at the Kabuki.

Next up was a movie I chose as a simple guilty pleasure--ROBOT & FRANK. Frank is played by Frank Langella, an aging cat burglar with the onsets of Alzheimer's dementia. It takes place in the near future where home phones are video screens, cell phones are clear plastic, and helper robots are relatively commonplace. So when his son Hunter (James Marsden) is tired of putting up with him, he gets him one, programmed to improve his health and keep him active and engaged as long as possible. At first Frank objects, but when he finds out that its programming doesn't include following the law, he starts to like the thing. The movie is a crowd pleasing treat with some silly conceits that I was basically happy to overlook in service of the fun. And underneath the fun there's a pretty touching story of a family dealing with a proud father losing his memory. Oh, and the cast is rounded out nicely with Liv Tyler as his daughter and Susan Sarandon as the librarian he has his eye on. Quite a cast for a first time director.

ROBOT & FRANK plays again April 22 at 7:00 pm at the Kabuki.

Next, after a couple of free beers at the festival lounge (shout out to Grolsch as the beer sponsor, and extra shout out for having a resealable cap so that someone could close it up and sneak it into the theater in the pocket of his trench coat...if he was so inclined) I saw a wonderful oddity in THE FOURTH DIMENSION (produced, appropriately enough, by Grolsch filmworks.) The fun started with a creative brief that set out the rules the directors were to follow. You can see them all by clicking here.

Okay, with that done the film was three vignettes by different directors. First up was Harmony Korine's LOTUS COMMUNITY WORKSHOP featuring Val Kilmer as motivational speaker Val Kilmer (according to the Q&A, which I don't know if I can trust, his name was Hector in the script but on the day of shooting everyone just started calling him Val.) He spouts nonsense, rides bikes, and plays video games. Then Alexsei Federchenko gives us my favorite of the three, CHRONOEYE. It's about a guy who invents a device that allows him to see any point in time, but is frustrated that he only gets banal views of people looking in random directions and not appreciating the historic impact of the moment (I love the joke about a God's eye view.) And finally Jan Kwiecinski directed FAWNS about a group of friends playing around in an abandoned town that's about to get flooded out.

So does it add up to something magical? I don't know. It's baffling, it's whimsical, it's quite possibly meaningless, or maybe it's a deceptively deep statement on the nature of meaninglessness (or meaninglessness of human nature?) Maybe it exists solely to make me write that last sentence. Or maybe it exists to make me write this one. I can say when I saw it I wasn't sure if I liked it just because it frustrated my expectations (which is maybe the point.) Perhaps I got too hung up on the creative brief (which cracked me up) and so I was looking for the hero to have a missing tooth, etc. Or maybe because I'm a time-travel geek I was hoping they all would interpret the fourth dimension as time (undoubtedly, this is why I prefer CHRONOEYE.) But whether I like it or not, I'm sure it's infected my mind now.

THE FOURTH DIMENSION plays again April 21 at 10:00 pm at the Kabuki.

And finally, I ended the night with WU XIA, and that was quite an enjoyable and exciting way to end it. It's best encapsulated as A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE reset in 1917 China. One day, in a peaceful village, a couple of robbers come to extort money from the paper mill owner. A worker there named Liu Jinxi (Donnie Yen) fights them, and despite all odds beats them, even killing them. To all witnesses it was pure luck, but the killing must be investigated and so detective Xu Baijiu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) comes to town with his almost superhuman keen intellect and concludes (at least to himself) that Liu Jinxi is more than he appears. Of course, both Liu and Xu have a past, a past that they're both trying to escape from. And while the drama of the two men, their pasts, and their cat and mouse game is intriguing, of course it needs some high action fight scenes. It's got plenty of that, choreographed by Donnie Yen.

WU XIA plays again April 23 at 3:45 pm at the Kabuki.

Total Running Time: 411 minutes
My Total Minutes: 278,344
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