The final two movies of the festival were last Monday night. And it was a great send-off THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK Secret Screening #1, a sequel to the secret screening from last year. Wherein our heroes are in trouble as the bad guys...strike back. And our main hero learns a lot of shit from a little green dwarf but not enough and then runs off to fight the bid baddie only to find out that long ago big baddie f-cked his momma. Also, the really cool guy becomes the really, really, really cool guy. Like cool as ice...or frozen carbonite.
RETURN OF THE JEDI Secret Screening #2, the sequel to Secret Screening #1, wherein main good guy is now a bad-ass instead of whiny farm boy. And super-cool guy warms up a bit. And there's a fight in the desert with a bunch of cool-ass monsters that people forget how cool they were because then it switches to a bunch of freakin' Care Bears running around a forest. And they play drums on the nameless bad guys' heads. And big baddie turns out to be a little bit of a good guy after all. Especially compared to bigger baddie who was controlling him all the time.
And that's the end of Holehead 2015.
Total Running Time: 258 minutes
My Total Minutes: 411,570
4 more films yesterday, Another Hole in the Head Film Festival is almost over for 2015. Just two "secret" screening left tonight. And if you've been to the festival throughout the week--or if you're just not a complete moron--you know what those are.
We started Sunday with the final shorts block, #9. I no particular order...
GENGHIS KHAN CONQUERS THE MOON:
Well, he has conquered the rest of his known world, so when an astronomer shows him the moon, and the Sea of Tranquility, he questions what use is it to see something if you can't reach out and take it?
Two brothers, a scarecrow, and a lot of pain, fear, and hatred.
THE MAN WHO LOVED FLOWERS:
With a smile like that, he catches everyone's eye and brightens their day. And he's got the perfect bunch of flowers for a special lady. Based on a Stephen King short story.
A woman wakes up in a box. She works her way out, and finds she's underground. Fear of being buried alive, and more.
A variation on "Now I lay me down to sleep..." from a man moving on to another place.
From Boise comes this story of a man who has always wanted to kill someone, and his adventures with blackouts and nosebleeds. Very funny.
The terror of women's health products. Beware that string...
WHAT DOESN'T KILL YOU: A clever short story about bullied teenagers in a car crash, who discover that when they die, they come back to life. So what to do about their friend who is only paralyzed? From the director of the 2012 Holehead hit MON AMI.
And then on to the features, starting with the Christmas slasher flick, ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE. It starts right away with a mystery figure picking up a creepy Santa Mask and taking some hedge clippers to the obligatory hot girl in the shower and then to her boyfriend, going right after his manhood. Yup, before we even meet the heroine, we get a chopped-off dick, because it's that kind of movie. I guess Santa has decided everyone is naughty this year, and coal is not enough punishment. The heroine is Rachel Kimmel, back home (in Napa) visiting her grandmother for Christmas break. And she helps out Mrs. Garrett, the weird woman next door, with her decorations. So... many... creepy... decorations. There's some history between the families--Rachel's mom went missing years ago, and so did Mrs. Garrett's daughter. I won't get more into that because therein lies massive spoilers. I will say that it's a funny, colorful entry into the slasher genre that doesn't exactly break much new ground, but is a lot of fun.
One of the scream queens in ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE was Jessica Cameron who directed TRUTH OR DARE which showed at Holehead in 2013, and she directed the next feature of this year, her "fucked-up lesbian love story," MANIA. This is a strange film, very different from her previous and not at all what I was expecting. It starts off simple--an on-screen clinical definition of mania, then a pair of lovers--Mel and Brooke, although I detected no comic reference there. Brooke is on medication for her mental illness. During the day, Brooke loses her job and Mel is busy at hers, so tragedy occurs and Brooke ends up brutally murdering their friend who comes to check on her. Very brutally, like excessive head smashing. And I think it's going to be that kind of movie. The hit the road quickly, and when the first dream sequence rolls around, I realize that Cameron's trying something different. She's not going for a horror movie, she's going for an art film with horror elements. There's a repetition--or variations on a theme--going on, with Brooke missing her meds and sneaking off to fuck and kill men over and over again, and Mel increasingly desperate to fulfill her promise to take care of her and make everything okay. There's no police tracking them down or other typical genre elements. There are some weird encounters with freaky rednecks and a psycho killer woman. It kind of made me wonder if the police aren't following them because the outside world is even more fucked-up than they are. Judging by the reactions of my fellow regulars, I might have been the only person last night who really liked this movie, and I think that's because I stopped taking it literally pretty early on and looked at it as a metaphor for the repeated mistakes and unhealthy behaviors in a codependent relationship. After all, Brooke might have mania, but Mel is the one who is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If only there was a word for that.
And finally, the closing night film with the squishy, gooey body horror/female sexuality tale BITE. Casey is about to get married, but first she takes a trip down to Costa Rica with her girlfriends. There she gets bitten by an unknown insect. Just a tiny little bite, but back home it gets worse. It oozes, it turns red, and it gets bigger. That and the fact that she was already getting cold feet about the marriage--particularly about her domineering, conservative mother-in-law-to-be, and the whole unresolved question of having kids. He wants them, she doesn't. Which is too bad, because she's gonna have some whether she wants to or not. See that bite... well, it progresses from oozing, to making her throw up clear slime, to making her pop out little fishy eggs all over the place. It just gets more and more disgusting over the course of a week or so, and when those near her try to intervene, it's not just gross but deadly. In fact, she kind of starts developing gross super powers, like super-hearing, a voice that can break glass, and the ability to spit poison at people. With a different ending, this could be the best superhero origin story since TEETH (2007) but instead it's a goopy, gross, and endlessly fun way to cap off the festival.
Total Running Time: 341 minutes
My Total Minutes: 411,312
The second big Saturday in the festival, six programs starting at 11 am and ending after midnight. We start, as usual, with some shorts.
Shorts Block 7
A cute stop-motion goth kid adventure, as he arrives at a taxidermist's shop to pick up his birthday present. Problem is, it's not dead yet.
Surrealism and creepy old man masks. It's about death. And it's too early on too little sleep to enjoy this.
Dystopian near-future. A hero who is carrying a lot of guilt and regret. A woman being threatened gives him one last chance to be a hero.
I DARE YOU:
After an outbreak (I don't think they ever use the word "zombie") rumors abound of government experiments on the victims. And young people play "dare" games where they run through infected zones and try to return with proof of contacted with the infected (and, of course, don't get bit along the way.) Fun, inventive film, which hopefully will become a feature in the near future.
LARRY GONE DEMON:
Literally, the roommate from hell. Getting him to pay the rent is the least of their problems. Getting him to stop playing death metal and smearing his feces everywhere is a bit more pressing.
Three women in a car on a wintry road, discussing men and sexism in cinema. And then the car breaks down and they have to survive a creepy cult.
A mother's pain in two Russian civil wars (1905 and 1922) told in computer animation that rests squarely in the uncanny valley. Unpleasant.
Bear interrupts his hibernation to invite all the animals over to his mansion for dinner. There he proposes a game--whoever is the last one alive will inherit his mansion. So bunnies, deer, turtle, fox, wolf, etc. all start playing the game. Oh yeah, and they're all played by humans in crude animal masks.
A little girl in a maze of tubes and ball pit meets and befriends some impish demons in this cute little cartoon.
A young photographer in the woods, looking for some peaceful, serene vistas to photograph. Instead he finds a madman trying to kill him. And it goes on and on forever. I took the opportunity to take a little nap.
WHISPER: A beach cabin, and a woman trying to kick the ghosts of addiction ends up raising some ghosts instead.
Then another shorts block, number 8
A cool bit of colorful fun with art, and the art-making process.
A short music video with a nutria's skull taking the part of a cuckoo's head.
A little boy gets a stuffed raven at a yard sale. When he turns it, it says "crap you." And then it won't stop saying it, no matter how much he tries to destroy it. It keeps...coming...back. Great ending, too.
A woman who doesn't quite fit in with humans. In fact, she's more simpatico with her dog, drinking from a dog bowl and stealing an wearing a service dog's vest. And then she learns the surprising truth (either that or she's just fuckin' nuts.)
GNOME & MR. DONUT:
A cute, funny cartoon of a gnome roofing his pastry house, when one of his building supplies stands up and rebels.
LOVE AND ZOMBIES:
A woman has turned down her boyfriend's marriage proposal, so they need to talk about their relationship. It doesn't matter that they're trapped in a bar surrounded by zombies, this is important.
A choose your own adventure movie, where three times there's a decision point and the audience had to vote red or blue on where Mr. Harvish goes next. So in theory there are 8 different movies in there, but you only get to see one. And no, there's nowhere online you can choose different paths... Anyway, it's an interesting idea and the film itself--at least in the version last night it was a story of a disturbed man cracking up after killing his wife--was pretty good. But honestly stopping the film 3 times, bringing up the house lights, and voting kind of ground everything to a halt. Also, this idea has been done before, and with a larger budget. Although my understanding is that movie really, really sucked.
A weird, surreal, psychedelic bit of animation, as only the Japanese could do.
A little boy uses his sick day to go exploring while his mom is out. And what he finds in the secret room will change everything.
TRICK OR TREAT:
Three little kids on Halloween. The witch gives out pennies. The gorilla gives out a good amount of candy. But that spooky, abandoned house, stay away from it. It's lights aren't even on. Oh, wait, the light just turned on...
A comic book come to life, from the villain's point of view. The heroes are the sadistic ones from a villain's point of view. The only difference is power and government backing.
WILL I SCATTER AWAY?:
Surreal danger, as a man is chasing himself. Shot over San Francisco and nearby, in beautiful black and white, and featuring an oddly dissonant soundtrack where the Foley almost works but doesn't really (like you hear footsteps on a hard surface when he's walking through a field and nothing when he's walking on concrete. Sort of the uncanny valley equivalent of sound.)
And then we moved on to the features, starting with SLUMLORD, one of guest programmer Michael Guillen's picks from Fantasia. This was his answer to AirBnB, and it's a pretty grisly one. The McManus brothers, whose FUNERAL KINGS opened Indiefest back in 2013, produced this feature (directed by Victor Zarcoff) about a super-sleazy evil landlord. We start with a little text about surveillance cameras and how many people are under surveillance in their own homes without them knowing about it. Then we see creepy landlord Gerald (Neville Archambault) buying a fiber optic camera from a salesman who makes a creepy joke about hiding it in the toilet, if you're into it. Gerald doesn't react. When a young couple, expecting a baby soon, tours the place, she mentions how it smells like dirty diapers whenever the landlord is there. And from that moment on I could smell it whenever he was on screen, because he just fucking looks the part so well. Of course he's watching them--in the pool, in the shower, everywhere. And it doesn't help that the young husband is having an affair and Gerald has all the goods on him. Things escalate from creepy to extra creepy to terrifying to deadly. It's a movie that will make you want to take a shower afterwards--but check for cameras first.
And then Michael Guillen's next pick from Fantasia is a truly terrifying (because it's terrifying true-to-life) story of religious fundamentalism. SHE WHO MUST BURN is probably the final film from the octogenarian godfather of Canadian independent film, Larry Kent (who was at Indiefest in 2012 for his film EXLEY as well as a retrospective screening of his 1967 film, HIGH.) And it might be his best (his films are hard to find, and I think we need to organize a retrospective of his work in San Francisco.) It's a Canadian critique on American religious fundamentalism and Planned Parenthood controversies (although I don't think the organization is ever mentioned, it's impossible not to make the connection.) Angela is a counselor at a women's health clinic, and wife of a deputy sheriff. In the opening scene, a man in the waiting room waits for a doctor to come out and then promptly and calmly shoots him (while quoting that bible quote made famous in PULP FICTION...you know the one about the tyrannies of evil men and knowing my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.) Angela keeps up her counseling for women's health, despite daily harassment and threats at her home--and the fact that there's no longer a clinic within less than a day's journey. And when she arranges for a woman to get a breast cancer screening--and to take her young daughter and spend the night--the church makes the wrong assumption, because obviously the only thing women's clinics do is kill unborn babies. The harassment ramps up, her husband tries to fight back, but the sheriff is weak and blind to how far the religious fanatics are willing to go. There's a storm brewing, both literally and figuratively, and the climax is already revealed in the title. What struck me about this movie is how fully developed all the characters were. Even the villainous religious fanatics, I was struck with how much peace and serenity they showed (well, except for Caleb, who was always being criticized for not doing enough.) The thing is, the world is rarely if ever a peaceful or serene place, and so in general something (e.g., faith) that brings peace and serenity to your life is a good thing. But if it brings serenity while you're committing atrocities, that's truly terrifying. It's easy to dismiss fanatics when they're frothing at the mouth and calling for death to the non-believers. It's much more frightening when they're at peace, and calmly and quietly carrying out "God's will." This has been the standout of the festival so far (with just one more day to go.)
And next up was the silent film event, Never Silent! Vol. 2: THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI. I had missed vol. 1 with Nosferatu last year so I didn't know what to expect. I'm always a little wary of "updated" soundtracks to silent classics. Too often (and I'm looking at SFIFF here) they become more about the musician than the film--little more than a concert with a film in the background. So I'm very pleased to report that Its Own Infinite Flower actually played an accompaniment to the film, letting the film come first and doing a John Carpenter inspired minimalist techno score that accentuated the atmosphere of the film. Caligari is of course a classic, a story of a carnival performer who shows off his "Somnambulist" Cesare, who is implicated in a string of grisly murders, apparently controlled by Dr. Caligari. I remember when I first saw it thinking it was great (especially the bizarre, crooked angles of the sets) but being completely unimpressed by the final reveal that it was all the mad dreams of a mental patient. So I was pleased to learn shortly after watching it the first time that in fact the final scenes were added at the orders of the government censors, and never originally part of the story. So watch it, enjoy it, and ignore the final framing device.
And finally, the late, late show screening of DEAD BODY. What was supposed to be a small post-high school get together in a cabin in the woods quickly turns into a larger party, with nine altogether. The host is kind of peeved, but things move along. And then for a bit of fun one of them suggests they play a game of Dead Body. They each draw slips of paper from the hat. One of them is the "murderer" and when he or she pinches someone they become the victim and play dead. Then someone yells out "Dead Body"--either someone who finds the body or the murderer himself can call it out to try and throw people off track. They reconvene, talk it out, and everyone decides who the murderer is. If you guess wrong, you're also "dead." So they try a few times, people aren't really getting the hang of it, and then someone gets the hang of it too well, as someone is actually killing them off. Is it the weird kid? The jock outsider that nobody knows? The girl with a past record of pulling a knife on someone? Could be anyone...but none of them really make sense. I did guess the motive pretty early on, but it was still a lot of goofy fun watching it all play out, and the ending is definitely satisfying. A good way to end an exhausting day at the movies.
Total Running Time: 552 minutes
My Total Minutes: 410,971
The big final weekend started last night with three films, once again let's jump right in.
SUSPENSION jumped right in with a scene of a dominatrix getting ready to torture a psychotic murderer with the old iron-poker-up-the-ass trick. But he escapes and turns the tables and...it turns out it's just the active, artistic imagination of a schoolgirl. One whose father did snap and kill 8 people years ago, and one who is regarded by almost all her classmates as a freak. Director Jeffrey Scott Lando, whose SAVAGE ISLAND played at Holehead way back in...2004 at the first Holehead (if you don't count the final all-horror weekend of 2003 Indiefest, which some of us count as the first--or zeroth--Holehead) is back and updating classic horror genres to modern times again. Back in 2004 he was playing with redneck horror. Now he's playing with slasher horror in the mold of HALLOWEEN or FRIDAY THE 13TH (oh hey, look at the date!) Anyway, after taking some excessive abuse from bullies, Emily (Ellen MacNevin, rocking the lead role. As an aside, strong female lead performances have been a feature of Holehead this year) goes home to babysit her brother while the rest of the kids go to a party to drink, do drugs, and have underage sex. But Emily just stays at home with her little brother--her creepy, almost non-verbal brother--who wants her to draw more of her bloody horror story featuring her escaped psycho father torturing and killing all those who have wronged her. And the movie switches back and forth from her babysitting to the story-within-the-story, until...they converge. And then things get gloriously out-of-control bloody violent. I loved this movie!
Oh, and I happened to be wearing my orange psycho ward jumpsuit and a hockey mask in honor of the date and the late-night movie, but it turned out to be even more appropriate for SUSPENSION, so that was an awesome little bonus. And for the people behind me (which is everyone, since I sit in the front row) I turned the mask around (mostly because it gets too hot and too hard to see through it) so they got to see the back of my head staring at them through the movie. I know they appreciated that. It's one of those rare moments that I wish I were someone else, just so I can experience the awesomeness of being around me. (No, I'm not too much of a narcissist, why do you ask?)
Next up was SACRED BLOOD, by the maverick Coppola, Christopher--whose THE CURSE OF BLOODHEAD also played at Holehead 2004. And he was also in attendance, so it was kind of a reunion of original Holehead filmmakers. Chris said he made this movie as a love letter to San Francisco, and is the first of 16 independent features he plans to make here. And that's pretty exciting. But before San Francisco, the movie starts out in...crap, I forget what Eastern European country...I wanna say Bulgaria, but maybe Georgia? (I just checked, it's Georgia.) Anyway Natia (Anna Biani) is a circus performer--a sharpshooter who lights candles perched on her sister's head. Their circus is struggling, but of all things a dog act perks things up...until it all goes wrong and she gets bit. So, with a bad case of vampirism she shows up in San Francisco knowing nobody but possessing some awesome fighting skills. She needs money, and she needs help wiring it back to her sister in Georgia. But the powers that be in San Francisco don't make it very easy for her. Lilly (Bai Ling) is a sexy vampire of Chinatown who gives her some tips. Kato Kaelin (yes) shows up as a pimp and is taken out pretty quickly. And Rob Nilsson is the God-fanger (Christopher just had to have some fun with his uncle Francis' most famous film series) who runs the city. They're not really there to help, they're their to use her. Luke is actually there to help. (Bailey Coppola, Christopher's son. And I will try to avoid pointing out that he looks like a young version of his uncle Nicolas Cage, because apparently he hates that. But I will say he did a great job in the film and welcome a new generation of Coppolas to the family business.) A struggling artist who is immediately infatuated and just wants to draw her. And so an eventual showdown is set. Allegorical San Francisco politics is all over this film, which makes me wonder how well this will play outside the Bay Area (but then, that was true of a lot of his films) but for those with even a passing familiarity will recognize a San Francisco that's ruled by (literal) bloodsuckers but still features some good people who will help make it your home.
A visibly drunk, wine-sloshing Christopher Coppola did a Q&A that was as over-the-top as his personality. And it went a little long, but nobody other than the regular pass-holders who were sticking around to see the 11:00 11:15 film seemed to care.
And finally, the late, late show, FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER (ignore the fact that this was number 4 out of...10...11 if you count JASON VS. FREDDY.) It starts with Jason's body being taken to the morgue. Where the doctor and nurse getting busy seems to wake him up again and start another slashing spree. Enter the teens (including Crispin Glover and his epic dancing) who are there to drink, go skinny dipping, and fuck. So of course that brings Jason, and the body count rises. And right across the street there's a family with a very young Corey Feldman as a monster-special-effects obsessed little boy. And ultimately he has to be the one to take out Jason. And I really don't care if that's a spoiler, because this movie is over 30 years old, and they all follow a formula. But I will say this about the ending. It's set up so that Corey Feldman's character Tommy Jarvis might snap and continue Jason's legacy. Sadly, that's not the case, because that would've been awesome. Instead, the grown-up version of his character faces off against Jason in a few more movies, becoming Jason's prime nemesis. Which is cool, too, I guess. I mention this mainly because so many fans last night asked about it.
Total Running Time: 278 minutes
My Total Minutes: 410,419
Two movies on Thursday, let's just jump straight in.
Speaking of jumping straight in, that's what ALL I NEED did, opening with an underwear clad young woman, bound in a room, she has no idea where or why. She looks around and sees other women, still unconscious, all bound, all in their underwear. This is not as sexy as it sounds. In fact this movie deserves quite a lot of credit for portraying the stereotypical costume of the damsel in horror film distress as being about vulnerability instead of pandering to the audience. Anyway, another woman is awake and tries to help her. But every once in a while--you never know when--a creepy, silent man in coveralls, gloves, and a hood walks in, drags a girl away, and butchers her (offscreen; while there's plenty of blood in the film it's judicious in it's use.) So the film is about her escape. And it's about building tension perfectly. Much of the fear comes from waiting and dreading what will happen next, not the jump-out-and-scare-you frights (although it's good at that, too.) Caitlin Stasey is excellent in the lead. In fact, she's so good that when they needed to do re-shoots she was hired away to a TV series and they had to write in a subplot and change the ending. And the subplot works excellently, too. Just when the tension in the room reaches a pitch, we switch to a story of a man with money troubles, and the mysterious organization that offers him work as a delivery man--but that's just a test of his loyalty to see if he's up for something bigger. And that's a whole different kind of tension. Instead of her visceral fear, his is more of a puzzlement. I could even bring in some gender politics and point out that women fear losing their lives while men fear losing power. But maybe that's going a little to far. What I do know is this was a great movie, and one that brings fresh new energy and ideas to the damsel-in-distress horror sub-genre.
And continuing with the damsel-in-distress sub-genre, we had a special sneak preview screening of GIRL IN WOODS, and all I can say is I was terribly disappointed. It starts off looking great, it's got production values well above most Holehead selections. It's got great acting, starring Juliet Reeves as a woman who is still traumatized by watching her father kill himself when she was a little girl. She and her boyfriend are on a vacation in a cabin, when he proposes and goes from boyfriend to fiancé. And then, on a walk in the woods, just as they're heading back, her fiancé kills himself--a shot to the head, just like her father. And she's alone, traumatized again, not knowing how to get back to civilization (despite the fact that they only walked a few hours away from the cabin.) And that's where it loses me. She has no survival skills, not even basic common sense, but she survives anyway all while losing her grip on her sanity (many conversations with other versions of herself ensue.) Not only does she survive, her phone survives for 11 days, until she notices there's a map on it and then the battery dies. That was the crowning glory that broke my suspension of disbelief. This movie asks me to make too many jumps away from common sense, and I just couldn't do it. Sorry.
Now with that said, there is an interpretation (strengthened by the ending, which featured a "twist" that was telegraphed from near the start) that makes it all make sense, but it requires that 100% of the movie be false. And I'm just not up for going back and imagining what really happened while she was crazy the whole time. And explaining what works and what doesn't with that interpretation would take more effort than I care to give reveal too many spoilers. Yeah, I'm gonna go with the spoiler excuse.
Total Running Time: 172 minutes
My Total Minutes: 410,141
Two more movies on Wednesday, a day when I was so exhausted that I didn't even have a beer. That felt weird. But the movies were great!
First up was CASH ONLY, a story of a struggling Albanian American landlord in Detroit. Elvis Martini (Nickola Shreli, who also wrote the script) might have the coolest freakin' name in the world, but his life is not that great. A couple of years ago he burnt down his house for the insurance money, and while he was never charged, it was suspicious enough that the insurance didn't pay out. But that's not the bad part--unbeknownst to him his wife was home taking a nap. Now the mortgage on his apartment complex is in arrears, he has 4 weeks to pay up, and that's not his only debt. He owes money to bad people and his tenants are...not good people (except for the gay guy who's really doing a nice job cleaning up the place.) His friend Kush is growing pot in the basement, there's a hooker who leaves her son at home alone with no food...and none of them are paying their rent regularly (again, except for the gay guy, but even he's a bit late.) He needs that money now, and in the process of shaking them down he ends up evicting the wrong person. Someone who stole something from a very, very bad man. And now his daughter is in danger, and if he's not smart he will be in even more danger. Shreli does a great job carrying the movie, and the tension builds beautifully as he struggles to do the right thing. The ending is way over the top, which in the hands of a less skilled writer, director, or actor could feel wildly out of place. But they make it not just work, but build to an excellent climax. Great fuckin' movie!
And then VALLEY OF THE SASQUATCH was a bit of good-ol' bigfoot fun, but with a solid human drama behind it. Michael and his father Roger are moving to a cabin in the woods. We learn pretty quickly that Michael's mother died in a car crash and they are both morning in their own way. Which involves a lot of passive-aggressive fighting with each other. The cabin belongs to Michael's uncle (Roger's brother-in-law) Will, and Roger invites along his buddy Sergio, a loud, drunken, macho Mexican who's constantly calling Michael a pussy when he does stuff like refuse a beer or not want to go hunting. They go hunting anyway. And they run into bigfoot. Actually, bigfoots... bigfeet... what's the plural? And so a night of terror begins, with bigfootsbigfeetsasquatches attacking the cabin and people attacking each other. A fun movie with practical effects and real characters instead of CGI and 'splosions.
Total Running Time: 182 minutes
My Total Minutes: 409,970
Two more movies on Tuesday, the night of oddities.
First up was MAGNETIC, an oddity with a lot of interesting ideas, but one fatal flaw. First the interesting ideas. Alice leaves New York to live in a winter wonderland (yes, her name is an intentional reference to Lewis Carroll.) There, in an analog dystopia replete with cassette tapes and rotary phones, she works the shittiest job in the world--calling parents to tell them their child has died and what morgue to pick them up at. All while a massive solar flare is about to hit the Earth, and an all-female Ra cult are planning to take over. Oh, and she's the only one left with dreams. And it's all set to a retro-electronica soundtrack. And I haven't even gotten to the weird part yet.
Now the fatal flaw. In the beginning, as she leaves the city, she throws out a bottle of pills. A voice in the shadows tells her she'll need those. She replies that she can feel nothing even without the help of medication. And then she spends the entire movie showing that. Everything is played with absolutely no feeling. Which is clearly an artistic choice, and is clearly making a point about our sense-deadened society. But aesthetically, it makes her journey a tedious and tiresome slog. This is a movie that may be well worth thinking about afterwards, but not possible to enjoy as you watch it.
And then the opposite, an oddity so random that you think it couldn't be interesting, but ends up becoming a cool, enjoyable story. CURTAIN, after a mysteriously bloody opening, tells the story of Danni, an ex-nurse who has finally moved out of her uncle's apartment and into her own. She's just setting up, putting in furniture, hanging a shower curtain, etc. And after a nap, when she goes to take a shower, the curtain is gone. Well, this strange and simple premise leads her and her colleague/boyfriend Tim (who mentors her in her job with a save the whales organization) on a strange journey to unlock a portal that leads to...well, the backwoods of New Jersey. And a terrifying cult, and a lot of strange, confusing danger. And a damn cool story.
Total Running Time: 143 minutes
My Total Minutes: 409,788
First up was a retro...um...classic? LADY TERMINATOR (1989)
is an Indonesian sexploitation flick based on (what I assume) is a traditional story of the Queen of the South Sea. Oh yeah, apparently it's a real myth. Anyway, it was adapted into an 80s titty flick with a title and a few other touches that try to capitalize on the success of TERMINATOR. In the opening, the Queen is mating and killing a man, and bemoans how no man can satisfy her. Then a handsome white hero pulls the snake out of her vag, turns it into a knife, and somehow that destroys her power. But instead of becoming his wife, she disappears into the sea and swears she'll get her revenge on his great-granddaughter. So, flash forward to the 80s and an anthropology student ("I'm not a woman, I'm an anthropologist!") who is studying the legend gets trapped undersea, that snake swims up her, and she becomes the new South Sea Queen. And she runs all over town seducing and killing men. Oh, and that great-granddaughter--she's an up-and-coming rock star. Then things get all murder and explode-y. The end. And the worst part, the anthropologist never finished her thesis!
And the second film of the night was REVERIES OF A SOLITARY WALKER (aka FANTASTICHERIE DI UN PASSEGGIATORE SOLITARIO)
was an Italian oddity of mixed-media fantasy. Taking the title from Jean-Jacques Rousseau's unfinished novel, it tells three parallel stories. On is Rousseau himself, struggling to finish his work while drinking a ton of absinthe and haunted by a demon in a box. The next is Theo, a student working on his thesis (theme of the night--the unfinished thesis!) on unfinished novels. He finds Rousseau's unfinished book, tracks it back to an occult shop, where the owner warns him against it because it drove the original owner of the shop (his father) mad. And the third is a Claymation story of a boy and an old man walking in the woods. It jumps around in tone and style a lot, and gets a little confusing. But director Paolo Gaudio shows a strong visual flair (he has worked as an animator for some time, this is his first feature) and if he can structure a story better, we can be seeing some great things from him for quite a while.
Total Running Time: 166 minutes
My Total Minutes: 409,645
Once again, we start the day with a shit-ton of shorts. Let's go.
Shorts Block 4
666 SQ FT: There's something in the walls in this apartment, and the landlord is powerless to fix it.
THE ARID ROOM: A prisoner, fed dust and given no water. Except that there's one slowly leaking pipe. Which is enough to keep him barely alive, until another prisoner is thrown in there with him.
AWAKENINGS: An Indian ghost story about a babysitter, the children in her care, and the mysterious entities haunting her thoughts...or their reality.
CHEESE DOG: THE MOVIE: Snaxtime, the inventor of cheese-stuffed and cheese-covered hot dogs produced this super-colorful film about their employee who wants to improve her life, and so enrolls in Snaxtime University! Best comment I heard from the audience afterwards, "I think the Internet just threw up on me."
HOLIDAZED: You're never too old to believe in Santa Claus, or God, or other fairy tales. Especially during the zombie apocalypse.
MERIDIANS: An acupuncturist and her patient, on their last session together.
MIASMA: A stop-motion animated story of a dying village. A village that feeds their dead to a frozen lake and harvests the gases from it. But there's not enough villagers left to keep the spirits of their ancestors buried.
THE PERIPHERAL: A psychiatrist has patients who all see creatures that shouldn't be there in their peripheral vision. Well made, but scarier when the creatures are just blurry shadows in the corner, not so much when they leap into view.
SHI: Bad news--the latest in a string of bad luck--is just the start of an awful day for a worker.
THE SIXTH PRISM: From the same team that made THE ARID ROOM, a world of devout monks who carrying the six prisms from when the original glass sphere was split. They observe the rites, like placing the prisms into the bloody baby skeleton hanging from the spiral tree. But one decides to go their own way.
VICIOUS: A young woman afraid that there's something in her house that shouldn't be there. And she's too foolish to think of opening a door instead of reaching around it. But still pretty scary.
THE WAY OF THE KAYAK: What the fuck. Who put a kayaking documentary in my genre festival?
So I talked to one of the festival producers, and he said that these people submitted their non-genre films, despite it clearly being described as a horror, fantasy, and sci-fi festival, and so he wanted to give them a chance because they were actually good films. My suggestion (and I'm not alone in this) is to take all the good short films that were submitted despite being not in the genre, and put them together in one screening, the first of the day, so the genre fans could skip it and other cinephiles could watch it and maybe discuss what genre means, anyway. Here's hoping they'll take my advice...but then I've been hoping that for about a decade.
Shorts Block 5
CRASPEC: A French billionaire, going crazy boarded up in his mansion with the corpse of his wife, who died of a drug overdose. Guilt and decay.
DRONE: A pair of drone operators in Nevada observe their target in...Afghanistan, I think? In any case, while waiting for their chance to take the shot, the new guy starts thinking about the guy they're targeting. Heck, he doesn't even know his name.
THE EVE: Simon is a wealthy, handsome, but unhappy boy. So he wants Santa to take him away to the toy factory where he and other disillusioned children can build toys and then burn them. Needless to say, there's more going on with this kid than holiday ennui.
JUBU: Based on a true story, a mother fights a losing fight against depression, and has to consider what to do with the children.
MIND CITY TERROR: The inner workings of a man's mind are the battleground for a giant monster and the Eg-0 One fighting robot.
NEIGHBORS: That woman across the street won't stop staring. And as more is revealed, the more horrific it becomes.
THE STUDIO: A map hides a mysterious painting and a more mysterious artist. The painting, it...captures something.
UNIVERSAL GENTRIFICATION: A quick, comical look at how those rich bastards are always moving in and kicking out the existing locals in order to build luxury condos. Pretty funny, about a serious issue here in the bay area.
VICIOUS: Okay...now the program says this was in both Shorts Block 4 and 5. I know I only saw it once, but it's all run together. I don't know what program it played in. Refer up above to my review.
Shorts Block 6
3 MEN: Three guys collaborate, one at a time, trying to tell a loop story. They've got a big fan.
DRIFTING CLOUD: A newborn cloud at play. Every time the cloud gets sad, it cries. And that's what rain is. Soooo cute...what the heck is this doing in a genre festival!
KNOCK, KNOCK..: Did not play. I don't know why, exactly. I know this was a huge problem with the festival last year. And actually after 6 shorts programs and 57 (scheduled) shorts, only missing 1 is not too bad. Not great, but not too bad.
LAKE NOWHERE: A funny, exciting, near feature (50 minutes long, which makes it a feature according to the Academy, the AFI, and the BFI.) An excellent job of recreating the look of an old slasher film recorded on a bootleg videotape. A group of friends at a cabin, by the lake, where the Masked Maniac attacks and kills them all!
ONE SCYTHE FITS ALL: A killer on campus, as the town debates whether the reopen the community pool. I mean, all that's wrong with it is that someone was killed there. Silly bloody fun.
SCISSION: From Australia, this well-woven story of a father, his girls, and his sister-in-law as he tries to hold it together after his wife's disappearance. Chopping wood seems to do the trick, at least temporarily.
YOUTH IS SUDDEN...: A frog reads manga, then life happens. That was weird.
Then to the feature films. Two last night, starting with the locally made OTHER HALVES. It's the night before a big new dating app launches, and the programmers are up doing last-minute bug fixes (which, as someone in the heavily-regulated medical device industry, totally cracks me up.) The idea of the app is simple--it matches people, but not based on some bullshit survey you're going to lie on. It matches you based on your actual behavior. Stated preferences vs. revealed preferences. It's what you do that matters, not what you say. So...for example...if the app messes with your mind, turns off your sense of morality, and makes you kill, it doesn't matter if you say you're not a killer, your behavior shows differently. The night becomes pretty dreadful, starting with a peeper in the women's shower room, and ending with...well, ending with a lot of destruction. But consider the profitable upside! Nicely done, for everyone in San Francisco who want to see a lot of techies die.
And finally, we ended the night with HAIL TO THE KING: 60 YEARS OF DESTRUCTION. A documentary about the 60 now 61 year reign of Godzilla as the king of monsters. Directed by and starring Kyle Yount, the creator of a podcast about the kaiju (Japanese monsters) genre, it's his trip to Japan in the midst of celebrating the 2014 release of the American produced Godzilla. Given that it's been about a decade since the last Toho Godzilla film, GODZILLA: FINAL WARS (although they have one in production for next year!) Yount expects to find that the kaiju genre has grown old and stale in Japan. In fact, he expects to learn that Americans are more eager for Godzilla movies than the Japanese are. But, in fact, he finds they're just as obsessed as anyone. Or at least that fandom is global. He interviews a collector, he interviews stars from several of the movies. He interviews a director, and he hangs out at a kaiju-themed bar, chatting with young fans. In some ways, it's kind of like watching a stranger's vacation video. Except that (for a fan of Godzilla) he just got back from the Greatest Freakin' Vacation Ever!!! This is a new edit of the film, and it's already short running time of 68 minutes in the program guide came in at just about 60 minutes even, which is fine. Anything more would just be padding it out. Although if he could get the rights, padding it out with scenes from the Godzilla movies he talks about would be pretty good.
The second day of the festival, and the first weekend, starts with shorts overload (seriously, I thought they programmed too many shorts last year, and they have even more this year.)
Shorts Block 1
CABLE MOVIE CLASSICS PRESENTS 'FAIR SHAKE': Also known as VAMPIRE LOBSTERS FROM BEYOND SPACE. CMC finally presents the original director's cut of this forgotten classic, complete with cast interviews and silly lobster puppet effects.
CANVAS OF BLOOD: A comic book come to life about an artist who finds just the right shade of red to inspire him and make his paintings masterpieces.
THE HAND JOB: Definitely the shortest film in the festival, it'll probably take about as long to read this than to watch it. In fact, just go watch it, it's hilarious.
HARVEY PEKAR'S TEO MACERO: Harvey Pekar reads from his issue of American Splendor where he talks about the music of the mostly forgotten (I know I hadn't heard of him before) Teo Macero (both Harvey and Teo have passed on since this was filmed.) I nice enough film, very fascinating, but left me wondering what the hell this was doing in a horror/fantasy/sci-fi festival.
PLANET X: Planet X is attached to Earth by an umbilical cord. And people are forced to immigrate there, as Earth is becoming unlivable. But do they really know if Planet X is livable? Doesn't matter, people are forced anyway. Refugees, immigration, politics, and mass media issues are explored.
THE PRIEST: Of course the road to hell would be on public transportation. A woman meets some very interesting characters on her attempt to make it home.
RON TAYLOR: DR. BASEBALL: An interesting documentary about a star pitcher who won two World Series (with the Cardinals and the Miracle Mets) and then hung up his uniform to go to medical school and become the team doctor for the Blue Jays. Another one that is a great movie but doesn't belong in a genre festival. The closest I could guess is there was a shot of a model skeleton in his office, so that qualifies as horror?
Seriously, it's not like they needed more shorts to pad out the program. I've heard there's another baseball documentary in the festival. A little suggestion to the programmers. Maybe take all the non-genre films and put them in a special program at 11 am some weekend, so your genre fan regulars can get a couple extra hours of sleep. Seriously, you're killing us!
SWEET HOLLOW: On her way to visit her sister, a woman has some car trouble. A man comes to her assistance, and as luck would have it he happens to also be going to her sister's house. He's actually supposed to be her blind date, her sister was going to set them up. Just one hole in that story, though...
WASTEWORLD: A world of garbage bags (okay, this is British so let's call them bin bags.) A woman emerges from one. A man is already there, and steps out of the shadows. They don't talk. They menace each other, and each tries to find the key to a container that can unlock the secret of the place. I think it's a metaphor...but for the life of me I don't know what for.
Shorts Block 2
BIG DRIVER: Based on a Stephen King short story, on her way home after a talk at a library, a mystery writer is attacked, raped, and left for dead. Once home, instead of calling the cops she uses her mystery writing skills and help from her characters to track down the bastard and the people who set her up and gets her own revenge. Very well done.
DARK AND LIGHT LEO: A puppet story of a little boy whose father passed away. But Leo can still see him, and plays with him. Leo's uncle wants to move in and take his place, not just as the man of the house, but as the man for his mom. Leo doesn't like that. And Leo has powers.
DISAPPEARED: A shipping clerk with a mountain of work. He finds a magic fountain pen that disappears anything that it touches. Cool way to get rid of all that work. But then he accidentally touches the ring he was going to use to propose. So he has to go after it. Very funny, clever, and inventive.
EEL: A weird movie about a couple and their strange ideas. Actually, that's the making-of story. The actual movie is harder to explain...or understand. But it made me laugh. And warning to PETA types, they do kill an eel on screen (they ate it later.)
HUNGRY: Christmas shopping. A great time to get deals for yourself, too. But sometimes a thrift-shop deal has a bit of a hidden cost. Beware consumerism, because you might get consumed.
MY LIFE IS A DREAM: Or a nightmare. A hilarious romp through several people's dreams, where every time you wake up screaming it's just another dream/nightmare.
NIGHT OF THE SLASHER: A hot young woman checks off the list--dancing half naked, drinking, drugs, and sex--to summon an immortal killer so she can defeat him. Best wink at the HALLOWEEN franchise: the killer is wearing a Mr. Spock mask painted white (the original Michael Meyers mask was a Captain Kirk mask painted white.)
THE SMILING MAN: Super duper creepy, this was really effective. A little girl is lured into the kitchen by a creepy contorting demon who paints a smile on his face with blood. Awesome.
SURGERY: A man is tortured by a psycho. But he's rescued, and a doctor is methodically fixing him up. But it's still not over, as we learn why he was being tortured in the first place.
THE TRAP: A guy invites his buddy over to show him the amazing thing he built. A trap to capture the extra-terrestrials who have been flying over the area. And he has proof--he caught one! Nice twist at the end.
YO SOY PEDRO: Sticking with the E.T. theme, in this Spanish language short an alien is mistaken for the star of an alien picture that some Hollywood filmmakers are shooting nearby. When the actual star shows up, wacky hijinx ensue. Cool.
And the shorts just keep coming, with Shorts Block 3
0 FEET AWAY: The horrors of Grindr, Uber, and being stalked online. And especially the horror of your phone battery dying.
BETWEEN TIMES: This beautiful little animated love story between a cuckoo clock on a bakery wall and the new street clock just outside her window. I had already seen it at Cinquest and loved it. It was great to see it again, although I could again question the choice to show it in a genre festival. I guess it's fantasy enough.
DAMAGE CONTROL: A guy needs medical supplies. And if things go wrong, he needs no witnesses and no video evidence. At least, that's what the guy speaking into his ear is telling him. A nicely done scene, which makes you yearn for the rest of the story around it.
DREALITY: Dreams and reality merge together, as is often the case for cubicle dwellers who believe they're more important than this.
HAUNTED: A resort that relies on its reputation for being haunted. Alex and Zoe are vacationing there. Zoe isn't scared, Alex maybe more so, but his big plans are about proposing, not about ghosts. But strange sounds and happenings keep getting in the way, and maybe fearless, logical Zoe is getting a little scared, too.
SHE LOVES ME: A picnic, a psycho, a chase, and a twist. When the sign says "Don't pick the daisies," don't pick the daisies!
SHUEN: Post-apocalyptic Tokyo, where clean water and food are nearly impossible to find. A girl must take some chances to help her little brother survive.
THE STOMACH: George is a psychic medium, whose stomach is the house for those he channels. A Mr. Pope shows up to talk to his brother and learn an important piece of information--a piece of evidence he must find. But George wants out, having all these dead people in his stomach is killing him.
And that was enough shorts for a day. Whew. Now just three features.
TALES OF HALLOWEEN is an anthology film, with all the stories cleverly taking place in the same town on the same Halloween night with the same trick-or-treaters. A star list of directors pay a condensed homage to John Carpenter's original vision for the HALLOWEEN series--it wasn't originally supposed to be all about Michael Meyers, it was supposed to be a different horror story every year released around Halloween. They just made them all short stories and released them all together. There's horror, gore, and comedy. There are devils (Barry Bostwick) and tricks, there are candy-loving kids, there are murderous kids, demons, aliens, ravenous pumpkins. And there are cameos by directing greats John Landis and Joe Dante, among others. And there's just a whole hell of a lot of fun. Really cool.
And then the highlight of the festival (so far...it's just the second of 11 days,) FAUX PAWS. A prison escape/road trip/buddy flick/crazy family comedy...about a pair of gay werewolves. Turns out werewolf saliva has amazing curative properties. And although there has never been a confirmed werewolf-on-human attack, media hysteria has led to all werewolves (at least those who aren't so old they no longer change) have to be locked up in reserves, take drugs to prevent them from changing, and donate saliva once a month. Well, old weer Doug and his younger lover Brian have a plan to escape and make their way to the one state where werewolves have rights--Maine! And I want to say they have a hilarious adventures on the way...and they do. But honestly the funniest part is just how they bicker like an old couple that get on each other's nerves but really do love each other. Their chemistry is what makes the movie work so well. That and outrageous costumes and a lively sense of fun.
And I'm not just saying that because I look so much like Brian that the writer/director/co-star Doug Bari had to get a picture with me.
And finally, the late late show FLOWERS.
I should mention at this point that Holehead is so poorly tightly scheduled that I had not had time to grab a bite to eat all day. The one time there was a 30 minute break I used it to check in to the Kabuki hotel across the street so I didn't have to go all the way home to San Jose last night (I'm writing this in my hotel room just before checking out.) I was fucking ravenous at this point.
So I say that just to say that if I wasn't so hungry, FLOWERS would've put me off food for the night. A wordless, surreal piece of grimy, gory, grossness. Six different women are trapped in the crawl space of a killers house. And they're trapped in hell...or purgatory...or something. It was 80 minutes of fucking disgusting. And then I went and got a Subway sandwich, because I just didn't give a shit anymore.
My favorite week and a half of torture (in more ways than one) started last Friday with two films.
SLEEPWALKERS kicked off Another Hole in the Head Film Festival 2015 in a way that perfectly fits the festival. That is to say a good idea, mostly executed okay, but not perfect. So let's start with the "not perfect" part--acting, editing, and sound. These are things no-budget indie film fans, and especially Holehead regulars, have to learn to not expect much from. So noted, but I'm not bothered by it. So let's go into what it does have going for it--a good story. Actually, come to think of it, it's not exactly a complicated story and doesn't exactly break new ground, it's just fun. Kids on a vacation in the woods. Some evil presence out there. It only comes out at night, hence the title. The evil presence kind of coincidentally facilitates the escape of some prisoners. Toss in a convenience store owner and you've got a nice cast of victims, and a good, exciting story of surviving the night...or not. Mostly not, of course.
And then the second show of the night was NINA FOREVER, a fucked-up fairy tale from the UK. Holly is studying to be a paramedic and working in a grocery store. Robb also works there, and is still getting over the tragic death of his girlfriend Nina. In fact, he kind of tried to end it all. Anyway, they hook up. The problem is, whenever they have sex, Nina shows up and just makes everything awkward. And I don't mean she shows up as a ghost, she shows up as flesh and blood. Lots and lots of blood--she still has her injuries from the car crash. So Holly tries to deal with that. Accept her? Incorporate her into the love-making? Nothing seems to work. And meeting her parents (whom Robb is still very close to) also doesn't help. It's a pretty obvious allegory for all the past bullshit we take into relationships, and also how we push that bullshit onto other people. And it uses the genre to good effect, while also telling an engaging story about characters I immediately had an affinity for. And the sex scenes--blood and all--are pretty damn steamy. Great way to start the festival.
Total Running Time: 193 minutes
My Total Minutes: 408,433
The Thrillpeddlers' annual Shocktoberfest show is one of my favorite Halloween traditions, even if I didn't get to it until the following Thursday. They always put on a great show.
Cracking the Vein: The show starts with this funny, sexy, murderous story of miners and the prostitutes and whiskey they spend their meager flake on. When they finally hit a big strike, Big John just wants to spend it drinking and fucking, but everyone else--miners and prostitutes alike--has more...forward-thinking schemes. Specifically, schemes to split the loot among fewer people.
We then jumped right into the macabre musical comedy with Donner Party Diner, a hilarious ditty that is just what it sounds like.
The Model House: The next piece was broken into two parts by intermission. After the War, Sarge has gotten into the real estate game, but is still good pals with his unit. In fact, he's looking to impress them at his twins' birthday part, and convince them to buy houses in the new development he's selling. There might be some concern about the fumes, what with this built on the old dump, but he assures them there's nothing to worry about. Heck, he believes in it enough that he's willing to take extraordinary measures to eliminate the crazy old man who's warning people off. that's the first glimpse of his darkness.
Then after intermission, when 10 years have passed (funny, it only felt like 10 minutes) we get a clearer look at his darkness. The years have not been kind, the fumes have not gone away, and he's a real sick fucking bastard who must get his comeuppance. So I won't spoil it further.
The Revenge of the Son of Cobra Woman: And then the finale is a musical romp, a tender love story between a man and his dog, a voyage to strange, exotic locales, a mystery, a revolution, and a beautifully bloody finale. Awesome.
And, of course, the climactic finale of any Shocktoberfest show is the lights-out scares. I've been coming to their shows every year since they opened the Hypnodrome (and one year before when they did a show at the old Odeon Bar) and even knowing what's coming they usually find a way to surprise me. And this time they sure did. I always love ending my nights with a little scream in the dark.
Last Tuesday was my last night at the SVJFF for this year (closing night is Sunday with THE OUTRAGEOUS SOPHIE TUCKER, but I'll be at another film festival by then.) The film, ENCIRCLEMENTS is a coming of age story in Israel. Aharon is a bar mitzvah boy, and a good student. Good enough that he wins a contest to be selected for the honor of carrying the Torah in the march around town on Simchat Torah. And this incites some jealousy in the brash, popular kid who thought the honor was all but his. And it does win him the attention of cute Aliza, whom he has a crush on. But most of all it brings the attention and desires of the whole town, who want him to pray for each of their personal desires while he is holding the Torah and communing with G-d. Which gets a little sketchy when his father asks him to pray for a little brother or sister, and his mother asks him to do no such thing (she's had several miscarriages and can't take it any more.) And then, while carrying the Torah, tragedy strikes. He drops it. And the aftermath of that makes up the second half of the movie, dealing with the painful realities of adult responsibilities that are...if not too big for a thirteen year old, at least pretty new to him. It's not even the dropping the Torah that's a big deal, it's the aftermath, how he deals with it (by fasting) and how the town reacts. A very smart film about what it means to be a thirteen year old adult.
And now, for the first time in months, I'm actually all caught up on this blog. My next festival--Another Hole in the Head--starts tomorrow.
Running Time: 98 minutes
My Total Minutes: 408,240
This film featured the most chaste love affair ever (at least what they show on screen, it's never exactly clear if the cheating lovers actually...cheat.) Anyway, Félix and Meira live blocks away in Montreal but also worlds apart. Félix is a secular, charming guy who is mourning his father's death. Meira is a devoted orthodox Jewish wife, she just doesn't want to have any more children. And her marriage is basically dead--she simply doesn't love her husband anymore. And one day Félix...talks to Meira in a bakery. And they start a very innocent friendship. It's not about sex, it's about companionship of lonely people. Even if they're just talking, or sharing drawings, or playing ping pong, or dancing to Cuban music, or trying on blue jeans. Of course, this is enough to send shockwaves through the Hasidic community and incite her husband's jealous rage. A very subtle, remarkably poignant story.
Running Time: 105 minutes
My Total Minutes: 408,142
Yup, you thought it was all over, didn't you?! No, I just wasn't there for a week because all the movies I had previously seen. But I was back for three films on Sunday.
BELLE AND SEBASTIAN: First up was this beautiful film based on the beloved children's novel. Sebastian lives in the French Alps with his grandfather, while his mom is away in America (which he's told is just over those mountains.) A wild beast is attacking their sheep, but when Sebastian comes face-to-face with it, it turns out she's actually a giant dog who was abused by her former owner but is actually a good dog (and wasn't the one attacking the sheep.) Naming her Belle (Beautiful) they become quite a team, hiding out from both the villagers and the occupying Germans who still believe in the beast. Oh yes, this is set during WWII, and in fact smuggling Jewish refugees into Switzerland is a major part of the plot. And of course Belle eventually wins everyone over, and becomes known as the bravest dog ever. Pretty beautiful.
A BORROWED IDENTITY (aka DANCING ARABS): Then there was this comedic drama written by Sayed Kashua (creator of ARAB LABOR, one of my favorites of Israeli television, who was in attendance and talked about his writing, the movie, and his decision to move to America, where he teaches in At the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.) The story is about Ayed, a brilliant Palestinian boy living in Israel (and an Israeli citizen.) His father beams with pride when he gets accepted into a prestigious math and science school. Of course, being a Palestinian minority in Israel has...difficulties fitting in, to say the least. But he makes two very important friends--first a Jewish girlfriend, Naomi. But they have to keep their relationship kind of secret. Jews don't like the idea of dirty Arabs touching their women. And there's no way either of their parents would approve. But love is what it is. And the other important friend in Yonatan, a young Israeli Jew who is suffering from muscular dystrophy. He first helps him out as part of his community service assignment, but they quickly become fast friends. And they even look kind of similar. Similar enough at least on their ID cards that Ayed can use Yonatan's ID and pass as a Jew. Which leads to the title, of course. The film is sometimes very funny, sometimes very serious, but always excellent and a great way to approach the social troubles of the whole...situation there.
ZEMENE: And then we ended the night on a truly heroic, uplifting note. Dr. Rick Hodes is an American Jewish doctor who works in Ethiopia. With very little resources in the entire country, much less the rural villages, he treats all types, but specializes mostly spinal deformity cases. Birth defects of the spine as well as tuberculosis create a heck of a lot of horrible disfigured spines. And Dr. Hodes takes care of as many as he can, including opening his home to his patients and even formally adopting some so he can add them to his insurance plan. And we see his practice through the story of Zemene, a young girl with a deformed spine whose uncle has taken her to the city for treatment (with no luck) but who meets Rick entirely by coincidence. She starts off as one of the most hopeless cases--not just deformed by badly malnourished and undersized. But she responds to care, puts on some weight, and is soon (at least soon in movie time) is a good candidate for surgery. And while Rick doesn't do the surgeries himself, he has colleagues that are the best in the business. That surgery puts Zemene on a truly inspiring, miraculous path. Not just to health, but to school, to opportunity, to the dream of becoming a doctor herself and opening up a school in her village. That's the best part--not just saving lives but truly lifting people up through education.
Afterwards we had a Skype conversation with Dr. Rick Hodes. And here's the most important thing I can pass on from that: he has a website where you can follow his work and donate to help save and lift up more children.
Total Running Time: 276 minutes
My Total Minutes: 408,037
And, of course, Happy Birthday to me! No place else I'd rather celebrate. Especially with the entire audience singing to me while Jon Marsalis played. But enough about me, let me tell you what I thought of the movies...from my perspective....me.
THE HAUNTED KITCHEN (1907): Segundo de Chomón, an early special effects master in the mold of Georges Méliès, made this amusing little film about a couple of contortionist demons who take over a kitchen and run amok.
KOKO'S HAUNTED HOUSE (1928): The Fleischer Brothers' star clown once again jumps out of the inkwell. Although this time one of the animators stretches his inkwell into a house, and when Koko and his dog Fitz run in, they run into all sorts of comical ghosts, skeletons, and the like and have scary, funny adventures.
THE FRAIDY CAT (1924): Charley Chase as his character Jimmy Jump is afraid of everything and everyone--including the local kids playing pranks. But when he learns (incorrectly) that he doesn't have long to live, he hilariously screws up his courage and takes on his tormentors. Good fun featuring my favorite overlooked silent film comedian.
And then a brief intermission, and on to our feature...
THE LAST WARNING (1929): Paul Leni's funny/scary backstage murder mystery, and much like his CAT AND THE CANARY established all the clichés for haunted house movies, this does the same for backstage murders (well, I guess Phantom of the Opera did a lot of that first, but still...) The opening scenes set the stage (pun intended) brilliantly. Famous actor John Woodford dies on stage during a performance of his play "The Snare." Chloroform poisoning seems to be the cause, murder is suspected, and the leading lady Miss Doris Terry (Laura La Plante) is the prime suspect. And then...the body mysteriously disappears before the coroner can conduct his autopsy. Flash forward five years, the theater has been closed, the cast has gone their separate ways. And now a new producer wants to open it up, putting on a new production of "The Snare" with the original cast (minus, of course, Woodford.) And soon after a phantom-like character appears to torment the cast with warnings and more. A nice mix of humor and suspense that Paul Leni was great at (too bad he died shortly after making this film) and an effective reveal at the end. Good film.
Total Running Time: 100 minutes
My Total Minutes: 407,761
What a great Halloween's Eve lineup for Midnites for Maniacs. And an exploration of horror meta-films.
Of course we start with some horror trailers from the 80s before the first film, including HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME and FRIDAY THE 13TH...forming the hidden message of Happy Birthday, Jason?! And by the end of the night it was! I have no idea if Jesse Hawthorne Ficks even knew my birthday is Halloween, but I like to think either he did it on purpose or whatever dark forces were guiding him were sending me Birthday wishes. Either way, on to the films.
SCREAM (1996): This is the movie that catapulted meta-horror movies into the mainstream, and can rightly be considered a classic now, although I remember when it divided audiences back when it was first released. The idea of a movie playing with the clichés of horror films just wasn't an idea everyone was on board with. But it gives everyone a chance to feel smart for a moment when they get a reference. And then realize how little they don't know when they realize how many references the film made that went right by them. And then to give everyone all the rules they needed to supposedly figure out who the killer is...and then still surprise them. That's fantastic, masterful horror filmmaking. And makes me want to see a Wes Carpenter film.
WES CRAVEN'S NEW NIGHTMARE (1994): And then this one is even more overlooked than SCREAM but you can see some of his ideas about meta-horror bursting out in this one. We don't start with Freddy and his prime target from the first film, Nancy. We start with Heather Langenkamp, the actress who played Nancy, and who now has an adorable but troubled little boy. And we start with Robert Englund, the actor who played Freddy. And we start with Wes Craven writing again, because he's having nightmares again. And it's an exploration of why we tell scary stories in the first place. Wes Craven's monologue about how evil exists, and it can be trapped by storyteller's should be taught in film school (or at least studied by anyone interested in making horror films.) It's brilliant...and more importantly, true. The world is an evil place--at least sometimes. And scary stories are the way we practice being scared for when reality is actually scary. Jesse told an amazing and moving story about that when introducing the film--about his best friend and trick-or-treating buddy who fought off bullies for him, and then tragically passed away at 19. It also reminds me of something I heard Neil Gaiman say once about why his stories ostensibly for children (specifically Coraline) were so scary. He told of how scary stories are our way of practicing for when life is scary (yea, I borrowed that line from him) and about how when he is doing book signings he'll often see young women, very shy, gripping a well-worn copy of Coraline and--if they can bring themselves to speak--they'll tell him stories of the most awful, abusive childhoods and how reading Coraline was the one thing that gave them both escape and strength. Stories are powerful. More than that, stories save lives.
Oh yeah, I forgot to talk about the story of NEW NIGHTMARE. It was great, that's all you need to know.
And we ended the night with trailers of (nearly) all of Wes Craven's career. Excellent.
Total Running Time: 223 minutes
My Total Minutes: 407,661
So after the Creature Features show in Niles, I had to race down to the AMC Saratoga for the last movie of the night at SVJFF.
Based on a true story, in order to understand this movie you have to know a little bit about orthodox Jewish divorce law. I might recommend SENTENCED TO MARRIAGE, which played at SVJFF back in 2007. The upshot is in order to get divorced, the man must give the woman a Gett--basically a written document of divorce. And if he doesn't, they aren't divorced. And there's not a whole lot the courts can do if he refuses (3,000 years ago the solution was to beat the crap out of him until he complied. That's been dropped as barbaric, but the whole law of the Gett has not.) I could have sworn this movie was based on a true story, but I haven't found confirmation of that. In any case, it can certainly be based on the fact that there are occasionally women trapped in loveless marriages who are unable to convince their husbands to divorce. And that's the case with Viviane, who already lives away from her husband, who makes her own living as a hairdresser, and who has to fight for 3 years with her husband's intransigence (it's months before he even agrees to show up in court) and then a humiliating process that is stacked against her, humiliates her, questions her character, tries to force her to stay with him, and in the end...has no power to force him to comply when they actually do rule for her. For a drama that is all in a courtroom with people talking, there's no way it should be as dramatic, gripping, and moving as it is. But it is, that's the magic of a good story well told.
Running Time: 115 minutes
My Total Minutes: 407,438
Ah, one of my favorite Halloween in Niles traditions, at least when they do it.
For those who didn't grow up in the Bay Area (like me,) Bob Wilkins was an iconic late-night horror TV host. And he was famous for not dressing up as a monster, but being the "regular guy" who made fun of the movies (if they were bad. If not, he actually praised them honestly.) and interviewed stars, did interesting segments around the commercial breaks, etc.
Only 4 complete episodes of his show exist, as most of the tapes for his segments were handed to the news department after they aired so they could tape news segments over them. Tom Wyrsch, local historical documentarian, has retrieved them and compiled them into complete shows, with the movie, Bob Wilkins segments, and vintage commercials inserted in the appropriate places. And a couple of Sundays ago, we saw the last of the four, there will never be more.
Oh, and as an extra treat, John Stanley was there. He's the guy who took over the show when Bob retired.
So, as for the movie. X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES (1963) is one of the good ones (although it was shown as a double feature with some awful trash they didn't play, which makes it kind of confusing at the end when Bob Wilkins says, "See, I told you it was bad.") Roger Corman directed this, with Ray Milland starring as a Dr. James Xavier who develops a formula to give himself x-ray vision. At first it's great for his career as a surgeon, but it leads to some problems when his colleagues try to get him to stop and he kills one of them. On the run, he resurfaces as a carnival sideshow act, a psychic who can see what's in people's pockets and the like. But that becomes problematic when his manager (Mr. Warmth himself, Don Rickles) starts exploiting him as a healer. So Xavier is on the run again with his girlfriend who has tracked him down. This time to Vegas to make a little money at blackjack. He just needs enough to continue his research. Oh yeah, did I mention that his x-ray formula is also kind of fucking up his brain? That's kind of important. Obviously, things won't end well. Except for the audience, the audience gets a great little treat.
Total Running Time: 126 minutes
My Total Minutes: 407,323
First up was L'CHAIM (AUF DES LEBENS) a German film about Ruth, an aging retired cabaret singer who is forced out of her apartment and moved into a place she hates. Young Jonas, one of the movers who helped her, reminds her of an old love, one that we find had a tragic outcome way back in the post-WWII days. After Jonas saves her from a suicide attempt, in a pretty harrowing scene (I admit, I hate the old slitting-the-wrists-in-the-bathtub scene, it always freaks me out) they form a bit of a friendship, and we learn things about Jonas, too. Like that he's running away from his lover for some mysterious reason (which is revealed in the end.) So much of the movie relies on the big reveals at the end that it's hard to give it a fair review without spoilers. But I'll say that the acting is great, the characters compelling, and the reveals at the end more than satisfying. A good story about...well, life.
And then FRANK VS. GOD, a comedy that seems inspired by a play on the phrase "to serve God." David Frank is having a bad life. His wife died in a car crash and he has never gotten over it. He quit his lucrative lawyer career and the only thing keeping him going is his loyal dog and his niece who adores him. Oh yeah, and she's dying of cancer. And when he's away visiting her, a hurricane hits town and destroys his house with his dog inside it. And to top it all off, his insurance company won't give him a dime, calling it an "act of God." So he decides to sue God. A judge with political aspirations allows it so he can be the courageous judge who protected God (wouldn't throwing the case out as laughable be a better way to do that? I guess then it wouldn't even get in the news.) Well, it turns out Frank is a hell of a litigator (no pun intended) and he gives--well, if not God, at least his earthly defenders--quite a fight. Lest you think this is a gleefully wicked movie for angry-at-God atheists, it's not. There's good laughs in it, but it's ultimately a sort of comic romp through comparative religions, and a romantic comedy (that would break all ethics rules about socializing with the opposition) with a bit of a deus ex machina ending, which seems kind of appropriate.
Total Running Time: 186 minutes
My Total Minutes: 407,197
A couple of Thursdays ago, a real crowd-pleaser of a light-hearted documentary about the most delicious Jewish tradition--the deli. Actually, that's a Jewish-American tradition, the deli wasn't originally about food from the motherland. In fact, delis weren't originally associated with Jews. Jews coming to America adopted and adapted the tradition (as they did with so many other things) and made it their own. And the film follows deli owners, their hard work, long hours, razor-thin margins (and slices of fish) as they make a living. It's certainly not for everyone, but for the people in the movie it's the only way of life for them. Many are in New York, but the star Ziggy Gruber opened and operates the best deli in Houston, TX, Kenny & Ziggy's. There's a melancholy tone to the film when it touches on how in the heyday there were delis on every corner of New York and now there's only a handful in the entire nation. It's an institution that is slowly disappearing, but one that's worth savoring while it's still around.
Running Time: 91 minutes
My Total Minutes: 407,011
The SVJFF marched on. This one was a documentary about family separation, and eventually reunion...sort of.
The separation was due to the Holocaust. Michla and Feiv'ke were brothers and sisters, both Holocaust survivors, but never reunited after the war. Both thought the other was dead. Michla moved to Israel, while Feiv'ke stayed in East Germany, very near the concentration camp, and married a German girl, putting the path behind him. For half a century the German and Israeli sides of the family didn't know about each other. But now their respective grandchildren are getting to know each other. Of course, there's a strong anti-German feeling in the Israeli side of the family, and that's the source of a great amount of stress. But I choose (and the younger generation chooses) to be optimistic and see this as a story of a family that was separated but found their way back together. It's complicated, but ultimately joyful.
Running Time: 97 minutes
My Total Minutes: 406,920
Two films, as the festival moved from the Oshman Family JCC to the AMC Saratoga
THEODORE BIKEL: IN THE SHOES OF SHOLOM ALEICHEM. Full of witty Yiddish humor, Theodore Bikel himself (who passed away back in July) traces his career in parallel with that of Sholom Aleichem. A consummate storyteller, telling the story of another consummate storyteller. What's not to love? Through stories, performance, interviews, archival footage we get not one, but two life stories of people who have kept the Yiddish experience and wit alive.
ORANGE PEOPLE. A family tale of three generations of Moroccan Israelis. Modernity and tradition clash in bright colors (mostly orange, of course.) Grandmother Zohora serves as sort of a narcoleptic oracle, falling asleep and waking up with visions and advice. Her daughters don't have the gift, instead channeling their energy into cooking, although with widely varying styles. But her granddaughter might have the gift. And might even use it, if she weren't so modern. The story unfolds slowly and naturally, we learn of the trauma in Zohora's past (it's revealed early on that she was forced into marriage at a young age, but only later do we learn the extent of the trauma) and the tension that brings to the battle of tradition/mysticism vs. modernity is mostly what drives the movie. That and a gorgeously shot, interesting subculture in Israel.
Total Running Time: 168 minutes
My Total Minutes: 406,823
Noa is an Israeli grad student studying linguistics in Berlin. Her thesis project is a video dictionary of "untranslatable words" i.e., words that mean something very specific in one language that doesn't translate directly to other ones. Seems simple and engaging enough, but not to her thesis committee. So left with the prospect of going back to the drawing board, her strained relationship with her German boyfriend, and just a general sense that things are working right, she moves back home to Israel for some time. But that doesn't necessarily fix anything either. The relationship with her family, and particularly how her originally decision to study in Germany, is the focal point of the film. And later, when her boyfriend Jörg decides to visit her, that becomes the focal point for a while. It's a character study and endearing family drama, and Neta Riskin does a great job in the central role.
Running Time: 87 minutes
My Total Minutes: 406,655
Umm...that's not how long I was there, that's the name of the movie
Anyway, I knew I was in for something unusual and harrowing when I spied the name Alexandre Aja (HIGH TENSION, THE HILLS HAVE EYES remake, PIRANHA 3D) as assistant director in the credits. I'll take a wild guess that he filmed the more brutal, bloody, and shocking scenes.
Anyway, the movie is based on a true story of a young Jewish man who was kidnapped seemingly at random and held for ransom. And the title refers to how long he was held, and tortured, until he was let go in the woods and eventually died of his injuries. But it's also the story of his family, especially his mother, trying to cooperate with the police and their fruitless efforts at investigating and negotiating with the kidnappers. And, oh yeah, the kidnappers were a Muslim gang and there's the difficult issue of whether or not the kidnapping was motivated by religious hatred. In fact, that's kind of a major plot point. In any case, it's a tense, brutal, and brilliantly made movie. One I appreciate but sort of wish didn't have to be made (or at least didn't include the "based on a true story" label.)
Running Time: 108 minutes
My Total Minutes: 406,568
My second day at the film festival was actually a Monday, after skipping Sunday because I had seen or could see elsewhere all the movies that day.
THE FAREWELL PARTY is a moving and interesting Israeli geriatric tale. An elderly couple live in a retirement home, devoted to each other and to their friends. But a challenging decision threatens their happy lives. And let's be blunt about it--it's a terminally ill friend who wants help ending his life. Over here in California, we recently passed a right-to-die law after some controversy. I don't know the legal situation is Israel, but the moral situation is I'm sure equally complex. But the movie handles the decision, and the aftermath, with a rare mix of humor and pathos that is almost unheard of in American films but seems to find it's way pretty easily into any number of foreign films. And I like that. I wish American films would be as bold as this.
Running Time: 95 minutes
My Total Minutes: 406,460
So, just as SVJFF is about to wind down for another year, I finally get around to writing about opening night. And what a night it was.
EAST JERUSALEM, WEST JERUSALEM is a studio "making of" documentary about a really remarkably recording project. David Broza is a world renowned musician and humanitarian (and, rather sheepishly, I admit I had never heard of him before.) The movie follows his process of collaborating with musicians around the world to make the titular album in a recording studio in East (i.e., Palestinian) Jerusalem. His Israeli, Spanish, and English influences meld with the Palestinian and American influences of his friends and collaborators, and makes for a beautiful experience. It's not a solution to the conflict there, but at least an oasis from it, and some of the most beautiful and moving scenes are just him and his friend and cameraman sitting on the roof chatting. A nice way to start the festival, and kind of left me wondering how the rest of the festival would live up to that (don't worry, it's been fine.)
And then afterwards we were treated to a live David Broza concert, which included a young Palestinian musician as a surprise guest (I forgot his name. Sorry that's what happens when you wait sever weeks to write up an event.) It was pretty amazing, and in just a few hours I went from knowing nothing about David Broza to being a fan.
Running Time: 80 minutes
My Total Minutes: 406,365
Catching up with the last month. And October always means some Halloween fun at Niles.
JACK PIERCE, MAKER OF MONSTERS is the new documentary by Strephon Taylor of November Fire. Jack Pierce was the makeup guru behind all the famous Universal Pictures monsters. Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, the Mummy, the Wolf Man, etc. Or one of my favorites, THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (later the inspiration for Batman's nemesis the Joker.) The film uses interviews, archival footage, news clippings, etc. to go over his exhaustive career, from free-lancing to heading up Universal's makeup department, to largely being forgotten and dismissed. Oh, and along the way coaching the Universal Pictures basketball team, which formed the nucleus of the 1936 Olympic champions. Truly a man of many talents, and one all horror fans--nay, all film fans--should know more about.
Then for the die-hards there was a brief archival Bela Lugosi interview, and then a bonus feature, WHITE ZOMBIE (1932.) Featuring of course Jack Pierce's makeup and Bela Lugosi as a creepy master of an island where he keeps "workers" enslaved as zombies using a mind-control drug (this was long before George Romero changed what we think of as "zombies.") A love triangle and some duplicity set up the story, with Madeline (Madge Bellamy) getting all zombified before the jealous suitor who tried to steal her away has a change of heart. It's not as famous as the iconic Universal monster pictures, but still an overlooked little gem of the time.
Total Running Time: 151 minutes
My Total Minutes: 406,285