Monday, May 4, 2015

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 10

Saturday was a big day, starting with the Members surprise screening at 10:00 am. That movie was I'LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, starring Blythe Danner in an absolutely terrific role. In the opening scenes, her old dog is ailing and has to be put down (and he looks way too much like a male version of Amber, our dog we had to put down a year and a half ago. So that was kind of a freaky start.) Blythe plays Carol, an older woman who lives her independent life with not much going on except for playing cards with her friends (June Squibb, Rhea Perlman, and Mary Kay Place.) They're trying to convince her to move into the retirement home where they all live, but she likes having her own place. She does strike up a friendship with the pool boy, over an attempt to catch a rat that's taken up residence in her home. That and wine...this movie was made on a shoestring budget, but it had to have a healthy wine budget. Then when a gentleman Bill (Sam Elliott) takes a shine to her she gets back into a romantic life. There is a point near the end where it's obvious how a Hollywood happy ending would play out, but thankfully that's not this movie. There's still a happy ending of a sort, but one that is more realistic and ultimately more rewarding. Perfect for a smart, charming, funny film that pulls on your emotions without resorting to sappy sentimentality. Compared to the last couple of members screenings, which did get into unbelievably sappy territory, this was a refreshing improvement. I'LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS will be coming out later this month, so keep an eye out for it.

The next program was a double-bill of short-ish documentaries about local Bay Area film legends. ED AND PAULINE celebrates the partnership (romantic and otherwise) of Cinema Guild founder Ed Landberg and iconic film critic (and daughter of Jewish Petaluma chicken farmers) Pauline Kael. Featuring reminiscences from current Bay Area film exhibition icons, it's a cinematic ode to a couple of people that created the local film culture, by the people who are working to keep it alive and vibrant.

Then it was HOW TO SMELL A ROSE: A VISIT WITH RICKY LEACOCK IN NORMANDY. Recently deceased Les Blank, another Bay Area icon, had left this love letter to his friend Ricky Leacock unfinished, and it was up to Gina Leibrecht, his his associate and partner, to finish it. In Blank's beautifully human style, talking about cooking is as important as talking about food (and only slightly less important than the twin acts of preparing and enjoying delicious food.) Leacock was a filmmaker with a career that spanned working with the father of documentary film Robert J. Flaherty to working with handheld digital video. From his parents Canary Island banana plantation to documenting the 1960 Presidential primaries to interviewing Louise Brooks to...well, his resume is on IMDb. He was a giant, and his career connected generations of filmmakers, and he was a master of them all. But again, since it's a Les Blank film, enjoying a good meal is more important than any of that.

And then the bleakest film in the festival, THE TRIBE. There has been a lot of talk at the festival about how utterly remarkable this film is. It takes place in a boarding school for deaf Ukrainian youth. There's no spoken dialogue--only sign language. And it's Ukrainian sign language, so knowing ASL won't help. So it's a triumph of visual storytelling that you can understand what's going on at all. And that's without the film resorting to broad pantomime. And all the talk of how technically innovative it is and how it broadens the visual storytelling language of cinema...not a lot of people are talking about how fucking brutal it is. At best they'll talk about social Darwinism and the violent system and then get back to talking about how brilliant the filmmaking is. In a way, it reminds me of reviews of Nabokov's "Lolita" that talk about the beauty of the prose and how he pushes the boundaries of literature while skirting around the fact that it's a book about fucking a child! Well, THE TRIBE is a movie about violent gangs, prostitution, death, abortion, and murder. And because it's told all visually there can't be any off-screen suggestion of what's happening or explanations through expository dialogue. It is all shown. It's like this film creates something that has to be watched, then punishes the audience for watching. And it's fucking brilliant.

So then I decided to catch something a little closer to mainstream entertainment, with THE END OF THE TOUR. Jason Segal stars (and impresses) as acclaimed author David Foster Wallace. Jesse Eisenberg plays journalist David Lipsky, who convinces his bosses at Rolling Stone to let him follow Wallace on the final leg of his book tour and write a profile on him. Wallace seems affable enough at first, inviting Lipsky to stay in his guest room rather than in a cheap motel. They subsist on junk food, watch awful TV (something Wallace claims is his only real addiction) and talk. In some ways it's the most awkward road movie ever, as Lipsky has a job to do and Wallace...well he's Wallace. Now I have to confess...I've never read and David Foster Wallace. I'm tempted to try to tackle his 1,000+ page novel (for which he was touring in the film) "Infinite Jest." Maybe, someday. As for the movie, the acting is the best part. Jason Segal becomes a friendly but gruff and vaguely wounded everyman (it's no secret that Wallace killed himself in 2008.) The narrative really belongs to Eisenberg as Lipsky, who approaches Wallace with a mix of admiration and professional jealousy. And in their friendly moments it seems like he's living the dream of becoming pals with his idol. But he never quite makes it. His attempts to get some juicy dirt on Wallace sours their friendship (or maybe it was never there to begin with.) And his failure to get anything juicy on him leaves him with no story that Rolling Stone would actually publish. 

Oh, and in the opening scene Lipsky also has a dog that looks just like Amber. It was a weird day.

And finally I headed over to the Roxie for more free beer (I forgot to mention, much free beer in the lounge every day at 5:00, plus at all of the Dark Wave shows at the Roxie) and THE WORLD OF KANAKO. Uh...that mention of free beer is a way of apologizing for not remembering everything in the film...it was a long fucking day. Akikazu Fujishima is a drunk and a former police detective (hey, that sounds like BLACK COAL, THIN ICE) whose estranged wife has called him telling him their daughter is missing. So he thinks if he can just find her he can get his life back in order. And so a bloody, twisted, confusing journey commences. And I can't get into the details, because I can't remember well enough. What I do remember was the style, which was wild and jumped insanely between comedy, tragedy, and...anime? It's a weird ass movie, quite a thing to experience while only half aware. It's probably even better if I watch it when I'm well rested and know what's going on.

And that was Saturday.

Total Running Time: 530 minutes
My Total Minutes: 395,438

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