Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 4

5 shows on Sunday, and the big first weekend is finished.

I started with the shorts program of family films. And when youth education manager Keith Zwölfer introduced the program and asked if there were any adults here without kids, I proudly raised my hand. Because I, like a few others, know that great movies are great movies no matter what age they're aimed at.

ARIA FOR A COW: A funny, musical number about a cow who demands respect, not just to be thought of as a source of dairy. Because life is a cow-baret old chum. Interesting background info, the song was actually written (by award winning team of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken) on spec for Sesame Street. They passed, but they always liked the song and eventually Disney animator Dan Lund made it into this great little independent short.
COWS (MOOSIC VIDEO): A funny, musical number about cows...who are cows who dance and sign because why not? Every movie should be about singing, dancing cows!
DUET: Was not about cows, darnit. But is instead is a beautiful portrayal of the life of a couple from birth to childhood friendship to couplehood. From master animator Glen Keane. And can be seen here.
HOME: A moving story. Ha ha, get it? It's a moving story because it's about a mother and her son moving to a new place and saying goodbye to the old one. Nice...but the kid wasn't wearing his seatbelt in the final scene.
LAVA: A singing volcano dreams of love...excuse me, some to laaaaava. Kinda cute. But mostly sappy.
LILA: Changing the world, though the power of art. A lady sees the world as it should be, and draws it into existence.
MY BIG BROTHER: We're talking about a really, really big brother. Like a giant. Like almost as big as the house. He can be annoying at times, but other times he's pretty awesome.
ONE, TWO, TREE: A tree steals a pair of boots and goes on an adventure. Yeah, it's pretty weird.
SIMORGH: I'm not familiar with the Persian story this was based on, but the animation was freakin' beautiful.
THE STORY OF PERCIVAL PILTS: He spends all of his life on stilts. A story of a childhood obsession becoming a lifestyle, and how the world has to adapt to the crazy dreamers. But what a view from up there.
SUPER SOUNDS: A shy, reclusive boy doesn't seem to notice the girl who is watching him. Perhaps he'll notice if she buys him a comic book. A cute way to start a new friendship, with an interesting surprise at the end.

And then from family films to the story of a dead mother and cross-dressing father, François Ozon's THE NEW GIRLFRIEND. In the opening scenes we see Laura and Claire, best friends since childhood, growing up, playing, consoling each other over failed romances. Laura finally gets it right with David, and they have a beautiful baby girl named Lucy to start their family. But tragedy strikes when Laura falls ill and passes away. After some time of mourning seclusion, Claire goes to see how David and Lucy are coping, and is shocked to see David in Laura's clothes. Turns out he was a cross-dresser before, and Laura knew and accepted that. He never fancied other men, he was always heterosexual, he just loves women so much he wanted to be like them. And with Laura, she was always feminine enough he didn't need to dress up. But with her gone, he felt the urge again, and honestly the comfort of mommy's clothes helps when feeding Lucy. And so Claire goes along, even convincing David to go out in public as Virginia (he had never cross-dressed in public before.) And he likes it...and she likes it...both "shes" in this case. In fact, the title is delightfully ambiguous as to whether Claire is David's new girlfriend or Virginia is Claire's new one. Of course, Claire's boyfriend can never know...and a web of silly lies is woven (including that David is gay, that is supposedly the big secret they've been keeping and why Claire is always going away with him.) The film breezes through some difficult issues of fluid sexuality with grace and humor, but never shies away from the difficult dramatic elements. And ultimately becomes a tender love story of acceptance and living as yourself.

And then the furthest thing possible from a tender love story was BEST OF ENEMIES. In 1968 ABC News was third in the ratings, and would've been fourth except there were only three networks. NBC and CBS were doing gave-to-gavel coverage of both the Republican and Democratic nation conventions. ABC didn't have that budget, so they went with an hour and a half ever night. And their biggest innovation in their self-advertised "unconventional" convention coverage would be a nightly debate on the issues between a liberal and conservative titan. First they found the conservative--William F. Buckley, Jr. When they asked him who he would refuse to debate, he said he wouldn't appear with a communist, and also really didn't like Gore Vidal. So they got Gore Vidal as the liberal voice. And a war began. Both were powerful intellects, and both understood the issues as a fight for the cultural identity of the nation. Not even a battle of ideas as much as a battle of lifestyles. The movie is very, very funny, and mixes new interviews with clips of the debates and other scenes that set out the backgrounds of the editor of the National Review and the author of Myra Breckinridge. A few things struck me in the actual debates. First, it was great entertainment, but not because the debates were particularly illuminating. As erudite as each man was, I didn't see the merits of many ideas being discussed (perhaps due to editing) but rather witty albeit trite bon mots being tossed. While it might have been fun for Vidal to characterize the Republicans as a party built entirely upon greed, it's not a very illuminating observation. What made it fun to watch was that the people clearly enjoyed playing in this new format (something the shouting heads on today's cable news can learn about.) But especially they both enjoyed getting under each other's skin, and it was kind of like a contest to see who would explode first. And you can see a clip of the famous explosive exchange here. There's a lot that can be said about how these debates invented a big part of televised political theater (and arguably the worst part.) But what I got out of it was how funny the whole movie was.

Looking back on my schedule, I realized I went on a little documentary kick. That was the first of three last Sunday, and the second was ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF CANNON FILMS. Director Mark Hartley had previously made two of my favorite cult film documentaries, MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED (Indiefest, 2011) and NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF OZPLOITATION! Cannon Films existed before, but became the kings of cheap schlock films in the 80s when they were taken over by a couple of Israeli filmmakers, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. They had a perfect formula--make movies cheaply, make a lot of them, and one or two will be a hit and keep the company afloat to keep making movies. Hartley brings his same exhaustive research and maniacal love of cult films to this project, and makes me genuinely nostalgic for Dolph Lundgren in MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE or SUPERMAN IV (which featured a nuclear-powered Superman clone...cloned from his hair...but the clone was blonde. I shouldn't think too hard, that's not even the worst part of the movie.) And then they had genuine breakthroughs like RUNAWAY TRAIN or John Cassavetes' LOVE STREAMS. Heck, Jean-Luc Godard loved making films with them, because they gave him just enough money and let him do his thing. But ultimately their willingness to greenlight almost anything, and their ability to ruin almost anything, did them in when they took on too much and too high of a budget (like with Tobe Hooper's LIFEFORCE, which I think is still amazing.) And yes, they did popularize the breakdancing craze with BREAKIN', and they made bad sequel history with BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO. Okay, they made a lot of crap, made a few amazing films, seemed to have a lot of fun doing it, and left their mark on the industry, for good or bad. And they did start the film careers of some guy named Chuck Norris and some other French dude named Jean-Claude Van Damme. And this movie shows all of it. In fact so much I'm sure I've forgotten the best part. So my apologies to any Cannon Films fans out there who is disappointed I didn't mention their favorite Cannon film (THE APPLE, maybe?)

And finally, I ended up DRUNK, STONED, BRILLIANT DEAD: THE STORY OF THE NATIONAL LAMPOON. Okay, I wasn't drunk, stoned, brilliant, and dead. But one out of four isn't bad, and neither is this movie. Of course it's going to be funny. And learning about the origins and the iconoclastic founders Douglas Kenney and Henry Beard was a lot of fun. Of course they were both from Harvard, and the National Lampoon was based on the famous Harvard campus humor magazine. They immediately became the icon of bad taste, outrageous comedy. Shock humor, certainly. Misogynistic, offensive, crude (particularly crude for a Ivy League intellectuals,) obscene, but funny. And launched the careers of...well, a lot of their people were lured away to a new Saturday night show on NBC. But the Lampoon is still going strong, after having branched into radio and movies--especially movies. And that's despite the founders not being around, and Kenney's unfortunate death falling (jumping? pushed?) off a cliff. It gives a pretty well rounded portrait of a crazy, dysfunctional, hilarious group of guys (with just a few gals) making some pretty funny shit.

And that was the big first weekend at SFIFF.

Total Running Time: 464
My Total Minutes: 393,933
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