Sunday, November 15, 2015

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 9

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
BUNNY BIZNESS: 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.
COOL WATER: Surrealism and creepy old man masks. It's about death. And it's too early on too little sleep to enjoy this.
HIGHWAY MAN: 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.
LAST BREATH: 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.
MAMOCHKA: A mother's pain in two Russian civil wars (1905 and 1922) told in computer animation that rests squarely in the uncanny valley. Unpleasant.
PARTY ANIMALS: 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.
PLAY SPACE: A little girl in a maze of tubes and ball pit meets and  befriends some impish demons in this cute little cartoon.
THE WATCHER: 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
ADVANCED DOODLING: A cool bit of colorful fun with art, and the art-making process.
COOKOO: A short music video with a nutria's skull taking the part of a cuckoo's head.
CRAP YOU: 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.
DOG BOWL: 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.
MR. HARVISH: 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.
SMALL GARDEN: A weird, surreal, psychedelic bit of animation, as only the Japanese could do.
SON: 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...
VILLAIN: 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
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