Saturday, March 15, 2014

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 10

Up early, at the lounge by 10 am, and drink, drink drink. Then time for some movies.

First up was the Norwegian thriller/drama IT'S ONLY MAKE BELIEVE. Jenny has a bit of a criminal past. Like, 'she's spent 10 years in prison for shooting a man' type of criminal past. But now she's out, looking for a fresh start with her young daughter. But when the bank won't give her a loan to fix up her shithole of a home (you know, to make it livable for her daughter) she turns back to her drug-dealing past. And that just puts her deeper in debt, not just monetary debts but favor debts. And they threaten her daughter, too, which is just going too far. Lead actress Silje Salomonsen does a fantastic job, and her innocent-looking beautiful face (especially when she's with her daughter) creates a stark contrast to the dangerous crime-world she's trapped in.

Then back to the lounge for another drink, and then the Vietnamese comedy FUNNY MONEY. A comedy about bad luck and unintentional counterfeiting, our hero is the ironically named Lucky Loc. He runs a company making fake paper money and luxury goods to burn as an offering to your ancestors (it's an Asian thing, you burn paper of a nice fancy suit to your grandfather, he is nicely dressed in heaven, etc. I happened to know that from my Asian friends, and perhaps if you didn't know it would be a little confusing.) He specializes in making the most realistic paper products possible, even texturing the paper and adding leather scents to his paper Luis Vuitton handbags. Of course, having fake money that's overly authentic can be a problem, and he accidentally pays a salesgirl with one of his "funny money" bills. And that causes his luck to just...suck. And, weirdly, it causes her luck to be awful, too. Meanwhile, his skills at authenticity attracts a gang of Chinese criminals who sucker him into making counterfeit $100 bills for them. And wacky, wacky hijinx ensue. That was a lot of fun.

And then I ran to the nearby screen for the comedy NOTHING IN LOS ANGELES. Writer/Director Alexander Tovar stars as Quinn, a sort of chubby Woody Allen of Los Angeles, attempting to write an artsy screenplay about a screenwriter named Alexander who is trying to write a screenplay. Meanwhile he is distracted by the vapidity of the industry. His best friend is cheating on his wife--with a man. He is falling for his best friend's wife even though he's in a committed relationship. That relationship is with a woman twice his age though (50 to his 25) and there's even explicit speculation that he's only in the relationship to get an experience to write about in his screenplay. Meanwhile his friend is actually making a movie--a feature based on a short about a filmmaker trying to make a feature out of a short about a retarded kid in a wheelchair who wants to be a boxer (the kid, not the wheelchair. That's just stupid, why would a wheelchair want to be a boxer?) And it's chock full of iconic L.A. landmarks, my favorite being the Original Pantry, although they chose instead to focus the action in the HMS Bounty. It's a pretty funny movie, even if it doesn't exactly amount to much, but as a former L.A-lien (my preferred term,) I like seeing it get sent up like that.

Then I ambled over to the Soiree at Brittania Arms, finally got my phone working at the Verizon store along the way. And while I was there, I met the filmmakers of AS IT IS IN HEAVEN, had a drink with them, and then according to my rules I had to see their movie. Previously I was planning to see MYSTERY ROAD, but if Hugo Weaving is too important to have a drink with me, screw him. Anyway, AS IT IS IN HEAVEN is a wonderfully made cult movie. That is, it's a movie about a cult, not what is typically meant by a "cult movie." In the opening scenes, David is baptized and joins a small religious community. One year later he's a leader in that community, as they welcome a new member, a young Asian woman. Their prophesied judgement day is just a month away, when their prophet Edward passes away after a fall. His last words are to David, expressing sorrow at his failure to lead them into sufficient purity, and asking David to lead them for the final month. And David takes it up whole-heartedly, instituting a fast until their final day. This does not sit well with Eamon, Edward's son who knows that Edward never would have done something so dangerous. While David could have easily come off as something of a psychotic asshole, he doesn't. It's very, very important to see that David is genuinely doing what he thinks is right to prepare his flock for salvation--even if it means starving an infant because no one is exempt from the fast. Similarly, in defying him Eamon is not looking for a power struggle, he's genuinely doing what he thinks is right, believing that David is a false or mistaken prophet. The story and performances are rich, textured, and nuanced. And the ending, which I won't spoil, is handled with subtlety, style, and grace. I am pretty open about not being a believer, but I like the way this story was presented much more than if I had seen something that was mocking religion or showing how stupid and foolish cult members are. These cult members aren't stupid, they have something they believe in deeply and are crushed if it isn't true--and that phenomenon is true of anyone who believes anything deeply.

And finally the last show started with the PTP short CHECKMATE. A blind teenage chess master challenges a wealthy landlord to a game of chess to get his father's farm back. A cool, stylish story of revenge, justice, and honor.

And then...HAPPENINGS OF THE EIGHTH DAY...happened (oddly, on the 10th day of Cinequest.) This movie is...just weird. On the one hand, it's a long meta-joke about making the movie. On the other, it's...well, maybe it's just evil. I'll get back to that. It opens with shots of silent films, so that had me interested. Then it's shot all over San Jose, so it was cool to identify all the places I know. But then...I guess there's a plot, it's just a plot about making the movie. And censorship from...it's never really explained. They've burned through so many sound men that their new guy is a mute...and quite possible deaf (in talking to the director afterwards he confirmed their sound guy was not actually deaf, but it was an elaborate plot to intentionally put bad sound in parts of the movie.) And now the evil part--it very often quickly cuts between slapstick comedy and scenes of horror--Auschwitz, 9/11, etc. So you laugh, and then you suddenly feel bad for laughing. Or it even happens so quickly you don't have time to feel bad and you continue laughing through Auschwitz. Or you don't laugh at all and you cry through those scenes. Or you feel angry, or numb. It's a challenging movie, very difficult to watch, and I'm as unconvinced that it was successful as I am unsure of what it is it was trying to do anyway. It's a movie that reminds me of early David Cronenberg student films. Not directly, but in the fact that if you just watched Cronenberg's student work you could easily dismiss it. It only gains meaning once he became "David Cronenberg." Similarly, if director Arya Ghavamian goes on to have an important enough film career that it becomes worth studying his early work, we might find that the germ of many of his ideas were in this movie. So check back 10, 20, 30 years from now, and maybe it will turn out that I was at the world premiere of genius. But for now...I doubt it.

Total Running Time: 456 minutes
My Total Minutes: 357,362
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