Friday, March 7, 2014

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 3

Another day of Cinequesting, another 5 movies. And at least that much alco-booze-ahol.

First up, the Finnish neo-Nazi movie HEART OF A LION (yeah, because I like to start the day on a light note.) Teppo just got out of prison, and is trying to make a go of it in civilized society. Even if that means heating his iron on the stove and patching up his dress shirt with duct tape. Needless to say, his job interview doesn't go well. So when local waitress Sari takes pity on him (when he doesn't even have 50 cents for a refill of coffee) and brings him back to her place, it seems like that's the only thing going right for him. But when she sees his Nazi tattoo the next morning, she kicks him out. He convinces her he's trying to change, and that's all well and good, but can he handle her son from a previous relationship? Oh yeah, that son, Ramu, is a black Muslim. And actually...after a bit of trying to kill each other...it turns out that his love is stronger than his bigotry. It's just a question of whether or not it's strong enough to stand up to his neo-Nazi gang (and especially his little brother, on the run from the Army because 'won't take orders from a damn chink.') Wonderfully acted and a great, gripping story. Peter Franzén blew me away as the conflicted Teppo, and the climax is undoubtedly the most brutal and cathartic tattoo removal in history.

Then from Finland we traveled to Slovenia for CLASS ENEMY. All the students love their German teacher. But when she takes leave to go have her baby, she is replaced with cold, authoritarian teacher Robert Zupan. He starts by flatly telling everyone their grades should all be two points lower (to which the class clown replies "So I should have an H?") He seems like he just might have the tough love and guidance to make these kids special. But a suicide in class throws everything off track. Especially since all the students start blaming him (because he had a talk with the suicidal girl the day before.) Accusations of "Nazi methods"  are thrown about. The kids rebel in numerous ways (the climax being a provocative broadcast on the school radio station.) But as everyone takes harder looks at the situation and themselves, nothing is quite black and white. An exceptionally acted movie, tackling head-on big questions of life and how to teach such a rebellious generation. This was Slovenia's official submission as best foreign picture to the Oscars, and it's a pretty smart, challenging, and entertaining movie.

Then I had no time at all (not even enough to have a beer) to run to the neighboring auditorium for SHORTS 2: On the Edge of Adulthood. Which is a much better name for the program than my idea, "Let's see some kids' shorts." Ummm...anyway, short movies about children.
HOMESICK: An Australian family just moved to New York. And the little girl refuses to speak because she misses Australia. Did you know that Sydney Harbour Bridge was modeled after Hell Gate Bridge in New York? Because I didn't, and that's a pretty cool thing to learn.
A PARENTLESS TURN OF EVENTS: When their parents die, a smart young lady has to take care of her little brother without the nosy neighbor finding out.
RAVI AND JANE: A young Indian boy is new to his grade school in Australia. Jane is kind, and they become friends. But he has to leave again just before her birthday party. Exactly why is a mystery, but his parents are in some sort of situation. An interesting view through child's eyes.
MY FOREST: A young boy and his favorite tree. A bit surreal, as there seems to be no one else around. Very beautiful, and then melancholy as the only other person in the forest is a lumberjack cutting down a tree.
THE DIVE: The classic scene. A pool, in the hot French summer. A young boy observes the scene and prepares for his first jump off the high dive.
WOLF, ARE YOU HERE?: An 8 year old girl gets to the bottom of the death of a cow, in a wonderfully acted mini-thriller. Warning, there are scenes of dead cow that...whether or not they're faked...are pretty gross.
THE SLEEPING PLOT: Shorts programmer Chris Garcia told me this would be my favorite. He's a sick bastard. And he thinks I'm a sick bastard. And he's right, this was definitely my favorite.
SIX LETTER WORD: A young boy and his mom (Rumer Willis) are doing their best to survive. He loves crossword puzzles, to the point where if you try to take them away he freaks the heck out. She has to sell her body for money. And when she recognizes the school psychologist as a client, things get weird. (spoiler alert: The six letter word is "autism.")

Then I actually had a little bit of breathing room to head over to Il Fornaio for the VIP Soiree. A few free beers. A few bites of what snacks they had left. And schmoozing with a lot of filmmakers. I should remind everyone, my rule is that if I have a drink with a filmmaker, I have to see their film at the next possible opportunity (exceptions: If the film is playing in a morning/midnight slot when it has no competition, that's when I'll see it. Also, if I've already drunk with a filmmaker their movie has precedent. Drinks from previous years with returning filmmakers count. I.e., I will see A IS FOR ALEX.) Anyway, A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO A SPECTACULAR SUICIDE was added to my schedule, as was IT WAS YOU CHARLIE. It's a good system, my only worry is that feature film directors have so far been much better at it than shorts directors. And I don't like missing the shorts. So hit me up in the lounge, VIP Soirees, or Maverick Meetups, shorts directors!

Anyway, back on opening night I had a drink with Harry Knowles, so my next show was to watch him receive the Maverick Media Legacy award. There was a good long conversation with him (as top geek, he can go off on a subject and be entertaining and engaging for hours.) I'll just repeat paraphrase my favorite thing that Harry Knowles had to say--movies should be written about by people who love them. Too often critics go to movies to point out what's wrong, and it's more fun to go and see what's right. As someone who is often criticized for "loving everything I see" I'm in 100% agreement. Not that it isn't fun to totally rip into a movie now and then, but why bring up SAMUEL BLEAK (Cinequest 2011, worst film I've ever seen at Cinequest) now?

Then we settled into a great, clever, tight Hitchcockian flick, GRAND PIANO. Elijah Wood plays Tom Selznick, a once-great concert pianist who choked onstage 5 years ago and hasn't played since. He is married to a famous actress Emma (Kerry Bishé) who has arranged his comeback, playing in honor of his dearly departed and kind of crazy mentor. And once he's on stage, he finds there are threatening messages written on his sheet music. If he plays one wrong note, he'll be shot. If he makes any attempt to call for help, Emma will be shot. So the thriller takes place over the course of the concert, as he desperately tries to get a message out to a friend, while his faceless tormentor (unfortunately, hyped too much in the advertisements, it would be sooo much better to be surprised) checks his every move with the help of his assistant (Alex Winter, good to see Bill S. Preston, Esq. getting some work!) This is just a really cool movie that (if you'll pardon the pun) hits all the right notes. And it happens to be out in limited release today (although so far I don't see any Bay Area theaters on the schedule. It is coming to the Bear Tooth Theatre in May for all my Anchorage friends.)

And finally, after the Harry Knowles program went a little long and then we had a little technical difficulties with the sound, the final film of the night, PARALLEL MAZE started only about a half hour late. This is a weird film. Which is good, Cinequest usually brings the weirdness at least a few times a festival, and I've kinda been waiting for it so far this year. A debut feature film from Chinese director Hua Ya, on the one hand it's a Hitchcockian thriller with an explicit homage to PSYCHO, and on the other hand it's a wildly experimental exploration of the possibilities of the universe and of film. The simple part is a story of stolen money and a girl on the run. But this is not a simple film. It's a film I will need to see at least a few more times in order to fully digest. There parallel universes, there is a hotel full of them, there are scenes replayed with different results. There is enough to make you question whether anything you saw is real. I talked to plenty of people afterwards who were frustrated by it. But to me (and I don't admit this very often) it was clearly a movie made by someone smarter than me. I will have to watch it multiple times to get it all, but a filmmaker who can combine Alfred Hictchock with Stephen Hawking is someone I want to see more from.

And then I rushed over to The Blackbird Tavern just in time for them to refuse to serve me a drink because it was midnight. But I still managed to stay up joking with friends until my train came by at 12:45 and took me home. Another day of Cinequest is in the books, and it's time to start the first big weekend (including after hours partying in my luxury suite at the Fairmont.)

Total Running Time: 533
My Total Minutes: 354,139
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