Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 12

Two more movies on Monday, starting with the late addition to the festival, THE SPECTACULAR NOW. First, a comment on the added programs. The festival has done, in general, a pretty poor job of publicizing the added programs and the added screenings of existing programs. For your elucidation, the added programs can be seen here. If you wanted to find that yourself, you'd go to the film list, click on the drop-down list of Categories, and select Added Programs. Yeah, you have to think of added programs as a "category" in the festival, similar to documentaries, new directors, world cinema, etc. Now to find the added screenings...as far as I know, you're S.O.L. I have heard there are flyers on the festival information desk at the Kabuki, I have also heard that they weren't initially available when they first added screenings. For the most part, the way I've heard them communicated (other than just appearing unceremoniously online) is to tell people who attend the earlier, previously programmed screenings. So, for example, if you were in an earlier screening of LEVIATHAN, you would be told they've added a screening on Thursday, May 9th at 5:30. I guess you could get some word-of-mouth dissemination of the information, but is the best primary target for this information really people who are already about to see the movie? That seems a little...dumb.

Look, I don't want to turn this into a rant about the festival. I know there has been a lot of turmoil over the untimely deaths of two executive directors in quick succession (gives new meaning to "Keep Hope Alive") and other turnover in festival management. And I really have had a fantastic time at the festival. It's just frustrating to see an organization not execute it's centerpiece in the best way possible...especially when you've seen them do it in the past. I'm giving them some leeway this year, but I expect some organizational and communications improvements next year. At the same time, I promise to be vigilant against myself just becoming a grumpy old fuddy-duddy who simply objects because "it's not the way they did it in the past!" (with that said, please don't get rid of the printed program guide! In fact, bring back the larger guide, even if you only give it Cinevisas or sell it for $5 or something!)

Okay, on to the movie, THE SPECTACULAR NOW, which played to a much smaller audience than it should have. It's a teen drama/comedy/romance that is 90% excellent and realistic and 10% over-written. Let's get the over-written part out of the way first. It's just isolated lines and scenes, and might get a little spoiler-y. Lines like "Get away from me, can't you tell I'm bad for you!" Or the exchange, "I suppose if I were your father this is where I'd give you a lecture." / "If you were my father, you wouldn't need to." Or the framing device of a college essay where the protagonist eventually writes about how his poor decisions have been the toughest obstacles in his life. These are fleeting moments, that momentarily take me out of the movie before I get sucked right back in (they're also similar to complaints I made about SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK and not only was it nearly universally loved, it was nominated for several Oscars including Best Writing, so I'm usually on the minority dissenting side of these thing.)

Now on to the excellent stuff. The lead character Sutter Kelly (Miles Teller) is an unusually fully realized and recognizable high school character. He's the life of the party, a funny, charismatic guy who gets carried away with the drinking way too often. The awkwardness of teenage friendship and romance is very well depicted. The love scene is one of the most tender, awkward, and erotic scenes ever put on film. And almost every time it had a chance to veer into melodramatic cliche (There will be a love triangle with his ex, they're going to be in a terrible car accident, etc.) it pulls back--so that actually the one huge dramatic shock packs a heck of punch. Seriously, there's a scene that made the whole audience jump and knocked the breath out of me, it was amazing! This is easily more than enough to counterweight the handful of over-written scenes, and make it a highly memorable--and highly recommendable--movie.

And then I ended the night with a personal treat, DECEPTIVE PRACTICE: THE MYSTERIES AND MENTORS OF RICKY JAY. I love Ricky Jay, I remember in college watching more than a few David Mamet movies on VHS in the lounge, and always noticing that big, bearded guy who had a supporting role. In one (and I can't remember which, it was many movies ago) he says something like "I can't do that, I'm not a magician!"* Then a friend pointed out this was an inside joke, because he's actually one of the most highly regarded sleight-of-hand magicians in the world. Shortly after that I saw his TV special (I don't remember the title) where he threw cards all over the theater and even into the hard outer rind of a watermelon. He was funny and amazing, and I was a fan, if not quite a rabid one. And now this documentary, which at times tries to be hero worship, but Ricky is quick to deflect a lot of that. Nor will you learn a darn thing about how he does any of his tricks. Instead, you'll get amazing profiles of his mentors and a history of magic going well back into the 19th century (and at times, much further back). His grandfather, the amateur magician Max Katz. Masters that amazed him in his childhood, like Cardini, Slydini and Al Flosso ("The Coney Island Fakir" who played at young Richard Jay Potash's bar mitzvah.) His later mentors--Dai Vernon and Charlie Miller--both of whom Ricky regards as mythical senseis in the art of magic (interestingly, he seems reluctant to accept the same role for himself.) And there's a lot of talk about the magicians' code--but it's not so much that you never reveal your tricks, you just reveal them slowly, over the course of  years...to select students...and only when they're ready. What great fun. I want to see Ricky Jay live now. But as he himself points out, the best magic isn't on stage, it's spontaneous, when you least expect it.

And that was Monday at SFIFF 2013. I'll be seeing a silent film (WAXWORKS) with live music tonight (Tuesday). I'm actually skipping the festival on Wednesday to see a SJ Earthquakes game. And then two more movies on closing night (I'm skipping the closing night special at the Castro to see KILL TEAM** and BYZANTIUM at the Kabuki). So I'm down to my last three screenings. Looks like I'll survive after all.

Total Running Time: 187 minutes
My Total Minutes: 327,469

*Update: Chalk this one up to an incredibly faulty memory. In poking around for the movie quote where Ricky Jay says, "I'm not a magician!" It turns out I was completely wrong. It wasn't a David Mamet movie, it was the 1999 (after I was out of college) superhero parody MYSTERY MEN. Ricky plays Captain Amazing's (Greg Kinnear) publicist. And I was the one who pointed out the inside joke to my friends, not vice-versa. That's odd, because usually my faulty memory makes me look more awesome, not less.

**Due to a brain fart, I originally wrote KILL LIST instead of KILL TEAM. KILL LIST is an excellent British horror film by Ben Wheatley. I've seen it twice (once while fully awake) and own a DVD of it. I kind of want to see it again now. But on Thursday, I will be watching KILL TEAM, not KILL LIST.
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