Monday, February 29, 2016
First up was the comedy DIAMOND TONGUES. If it's true that the hardest thing for an actor to do is pretend to be a bad actor, then Leah Goldstein is a master. She plays Edith Welland, a struggling actress in New York with big dreams. All her friends' careers are starting to take off. Even her ex-boyfriend just decides on a whim to become an actor, and lands the lead role in an indie film. A film that she auditions for...opposite him--awkward! But it's not like she doesn't deserve all of this. She really...isn't that good. Both in the sense that she's not very talented, and in the sense that she's kind of a vindictive bitch who starts sabotaging other people's careers. Bad people doing bad things, and the end result is pretty darn funny.
And then the documentary BURIED ABOVE GROUND, a personal look at people suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.) From an Iraq war vet, to a Katrina survivor, to an addict struggling to keep clean. It's a well enough made movie, so it probably says something about me that I found the most sympathetic character to be...the service dog. Al Franken makes an appearance, supporting his service-dogs-for-vets bill, and reminds me again what an effective statesman he is. And I'm very glad that the featured vet got his dog and bonded with him well. But mostly I just like dogs, because they're cool.
Total Running Time: 178 minutes
My Total Minutes: 419,772
Monday, February 22, 2016
BIRTHDAY: A tribute to our wounded vets, as an injured Marine and his wife face the rest of their life together.
LOS NINOS SICARIOS: The life of teenage hitmen working for a drug cartel. Chilling.
THE WORLD OF FILM FESTIVALS: Important information from this guy, who has also been entertaining us in the trailer reel all fest long.
VESSELS: A cautionary tale of dangerous transgender surgery in an
LAST BASE: Two friends go base-jumping one last time, to scatter their friend's ashes. As a storm approaches, they have to question whether the thrill is worth the danger. Especially when one of them is about to settle down and become a father.
MY DREAM'S A JOKE: Wes Austin is a successful patent attorney in Salt Lake City. But he has a secret dream to be a comedian. So he writes his own script for a sitcom pilot--about a patent attorney who dreams of being a comedian. This is the behind the scenes "making of" documentary, and if you want to check out the finished product, go here and use the password SFINDIE2016. Uh...at least according to the cards they handed out after the show. I haven't been able to get it to work. And it's limited to 30 days, so...good luck? [Update: It's working now!]
VICIOUS: A repeat screening of this Holehead short. 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.
SYNCHRONICITIES: Peter Maxwell Slattery knows UFOs exist. He's an experiencer, and while I don't believe, I believe he believes (or knows) and there's something charming about him anyway.
TIME TRAVEL THROUGH TIME: Multiple hilarious overlapping timelines converge over a broken coffee maker. Excellent!
FILTHY BUT FINE: A hilarious animated adventure of a delivery boy and all the dangers he faces.
LA BUENA FE (FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS): A woman arrives at a hospital after her water breaks. There's no one there, no doctors, no nurses, just automation taken a ridiculous extreme. Meanwhile, her friends are trying to get through traffic to be there for her.
THE HOUSE IS INNOCENT: A documentary about an infamous house in Sacramento where several murders took place, and the nice older couple with a great sense of humor who bought the place.
LUXURE: Just because a man loves his wife, it doesn't mean he won't occasionally seek out a little strange. Sometimes...a little too strange.
My Total Minutes: 419,594
Sunday, February 21, 2016
And now LADY PSYCHO KILLER isn't even the best lady psycho killer movie I've seen in the past 24 hours.
That might be a bit of a spoiler. Or maybe not, given the opening shot, where the "victim"of a snuff film is clearly the one on control. Even strapped to a table, she's clearly in power over the two numbskulls who are torturing her. Switch to a couple of days earlier, and we see loser idiot brothers trying to make it as filmmakers in L.A. The elder, Dresden, has dreams of money and fame. His little brother Dominic just wants to act. But their dreams may be at an end and they might have to move back to Minnesota, much to the chagrin of their flaming landlord Jorge (who starts out as a cringe-worthy gay joke, but the joke quickly turns to how the brothers are so clueless they don't even see he's gay. He just likes getting "brews with the bros." Anyway, their last chance is a horror film competition, but the deadline is way too close. So they--Dresden, really--come up with a plan. They'll make a snuff film. Not a real one, but the actress won't know that. By kidnapping her and torturing her (without actually hurting her) they'll get a more believable performance. After a pretty funny audition montage, they find their actress. But like I said, they're no match for her. It's a funny ride, and imperfectly enjoyable just for the visceral thrill. But there's also some smart points made about sexism in the media, and in the film industry, and how truly shocking and transgressive it is to go against that grain.
A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO SNUFF enjoys three screenings at Cinequest. Check it out, it's awesome.
The first show started with a couple of shorts:
TOUCHING THE UNTOUCHABLE explored the lives of an Indian Dalit (untouchable) community, and their desire for clean drinking water. They had to walk miles to a well they weren't even allowed to use. Once there, if no kindly upper caste person helped them, they'd have to go home thirsty. So they sought out the help of an African-American Buddhist nun to help them organize and dig their own well. There's some pointed commentary about how as an African American, she knows a little something about being treated as sub-human.
SANDORKRAUT is the story of fermentation and expert Sandor Katz. How a connection with food--particularly how death and microbial activity turns into something wonderful--changes your moral relationship with the world.
And then the feature, CHANGING SEASON: ON THE MASUMOTO FAMILY FARM, goes further along the connection-with-food line. Food and family, in fact. Following a year on their family farm, the film explores their family history, from the WWII internment camps to buying a hard 40 acre patch of ground, to working that into a sustainable farm, to passing it on to future generations. The central relationship is with current patriarch David “Mas” Masumoto and his daughter Nikiko. Fresh off graduating from UC Berkeley (with a women's studies major) she decides she really does want to return home and work the farm with her partner. Oh yeah, she's a lesbian, and while that's no big deal in the progressive Bay Area, that still can be a problem in the central valley. But she seems to be getting by fine with a strong family and her sharp wit. Really, after some mentions of the social issues, the bigger issue becomes the ongoing drought and how to keep the farm in business. The film is a tight 60 minutes (a requirement, as they're showing on PBS sometime in the future) and as a result they had to cut a lot, so it focuses on the family dynamic more than the farming, which is ultimately a good choice, I think. I wouldn't mind a longer cut (maybe DVD extras) that shows a little more of the farming side.
Next up was an 80 minute Coke commercial, THE JOURNEY WITHIN. Okay, it's supposed to be a documentary about Pakistan, and how a music show called Coke Studio is bringing hope to the war-torn country, giving musicians a chance to make a living at their art, and introducing a new generation--who prefers Western style music--to experience their traditional culture, with a western twist to it. But they never do much to address the fact that this is all prominently sponsored by Coca-Cola, and that "Coke" and the red and white logo is splashed on everything. In the Q&A, the question was asked and answered--that of course Coke sponsored, but they were very good at leaving the creative team alone to do the show they wanted. Just because it's funded by a giant multi-national company doesn't mean it can't be good (I'd like to take a moment to thank Toyota for sponsoring the festival.) And if a little bit of that was put into the movie, it would be much better. As it was I was tired and struggled to stay awake. But every time I woke up I was impressed by the music and annoyed by the Coke logo.
And then it was back to the Alamo Drafthouse for some more Far-Out Flicks, starting with THE SIMILARS (LOS PARECIDOS) from Isaac Ezban, who also directed EL INCIDENTE. This guy is one to watch, and I told him afterwards that I want to buy a ticket now to whatever he makes next. In a love-letter (homage is too weak of a word) to The Twilight Zone, the film starts on a dark, rainy night in 1968. A bearded man is trapped in a bus station, trying desperately to get into the city where his wife is giving birth to twins. Another woman is there, 8 months pregnant and desperate to get to the hospital after a fight with her husband. More people show up--a medical student on his way to a protest, a mother with her sick child, a native woman. And of course, the man behind the ticket counter. And they're all trapped in there--not just the rain, not just the warnings on the radio to not go out, but physically trapped--the doors won't open. And then some extreme strangeness starts happening. They all start growing beards and looking like that first man I mentioned. Paranoia sets in, as they all start setting against each other, and some final twists add up to another brilliant little mindbender from one of my new favorite directors.
And then it was LADY PSYCHO KILLER. With a title like that and a promise of a "feminist slasher flick," how could you go wrong? Well, they found a way--mostly by making the female slasher the product of her father's psychotic genes, a twist that adds nothing and detracts heavily from the feminist aspect. In any case, Ella is a good girl and an even better student. When her psychology professor assigns the entire class to "break a sexual norm" she goes to a strip club and is immediately creeped out by the owner (Ron Jeremy.) So she kills him...and she likes it. So she does it again, and again, and again. But it just never reaches its potential. I don't want to say it's a bad movie, because I liked a lot of it. It's just that it could've been something more. I mentioned that the father-was-a-psycho angle didn't work for me, and a few of my friends preferred to believe that her mother was actually the psycho who killed her dad. I like that idea, but want to take it one step further--that there was no dad. Mom was a psycho killer and she was immaculately conceived. After all she does say the Ella means Goddess. Anyway, is it a spoiler to talk about what I wished a movie had been instead of what it actually was? If it is, then don't read the previous few sentences.
And finally, I ended the night with the horror anthology LATE NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE. It uses the framing device of a crappy late night show Dr. Nasty's Cavalcade of Horror. Dr. Nasty is an alcoholic pervert, and his assistant Nurse Nasty does all the work to keep the show going but gets none of the credit. Tonight they're showing a cannibal flick, DINNER FOR MONSTERS. A chef is called upon to cater a fancy dinner party, where the hosts have provided their own roast. Of course it's human, and if he doesn't cook and serve it, he will be next week's main course. Grotesque wackiness ensues. Next up is the art-house S&M movie SLIT, about a man who is paid to cut people--carefully and with sanitized blades. But one girl is unsatisfied with his services. And finally, the behind-the-scenes antics and abuse of Nurse Nasty get to be too much, and framing device is of course the third horror film in the double feature. With a most satisfying ending, to the film, and to the longest day of Indiefest.
Total Running Time: 418 minutes
My Total Minutes: 419,245
Saturday, February 20, 2016
First up was a brilliant mind-bender from Mexico, THE INCIDENT (EL INCIDENTE.) Director Isaac Ezban (whose THE SIMILARS plays tonight) has crafted a wonderfully entertaining mind-fuck. A man comes home to see a detective holding his brother captive. They fight, they run, they run down a stairwell and...they're trapped there forever. It becomes an infinite looping stairwell with no exit, where below level one is level nine and all the way down (and up) repeating. In fact, if one of them stays there and another runs up/down nine flights, he'll run into the other guy again. And they're trapped there. Meanwhile, in a parallel story, a family drives the same endless, repeating road over and over again. As they both drag on for 35 years, we see different ways the subjects adapt, either falling apart of making the best of their situation. These stories do eventually connect, and expand to higher thoughts of different realities. And the ending is brilliant and can make you question anything. Except for the mind-bending talent of Ezban--that's beyond question.
My Total Minutes: 418,827
Friday, February 19, 2016
And then PARADISE CLUB should've been a movie I loved, at least for two reasons--tits. Director Carolyn Cavallero was a topless dancer in the North Beach bars of 60s San Francisco, so I assume she brings some authenticity to the film. Starting from the end of 1968 and going through to New Year's Day of 1970, we follow a year in the exotic Paradise Club, run by a coke-snorting Eric Roberts. He does anything to keep the club profitable--and pay off his dope dealer--from changing from topless to bottomless to...more. As the 60s are ending and the Vietnam War is raging on, politics and sex collide. The atmosphere is (I assume) accurately captured. The music is good, and the girls are hot and frequently naked. I'm just not sure I've ever seen a movie where absolutely every scene was so sure it was the most important scene ever. It's so wrapped up in it's own self-importance that it suffocates and sabotages itself. It's a very interesting disappointment.
Total Running Time: 179 minutes
My Total Minutes: 418,624
COUCH: Apartment living, with furniture, household repairs, and dating.
HIP HIP HOORAY: On his 30th birthday, a man breaks up with his overly controlling girlfriend, just in time to find out she threw a surprise party for him.
KETATAPAN: A Singaporean engaged couple have a conversation about just one more thing she needs him to do so her Muslim family will accept him. He's already given up drinking and pork, so there's just one thing left.
LOVE AND FAITH: And fear of the water, because you can't swim. It's a comedy.
MUSH: Crime scene cleanup is not an easy place to meet people. But one woman fascinated by the process keeps interrupting.
MY FATHER, THE SHOT PUTTER FROM DDR: That title is pretty self-explanatory, and the movie is really nicely done.
NO BREATH PLAY: A little light BDSM leaves a woman in a difficult situation. Problem solving skills to the rescue!
TWO DOLLAR BILL: Halloween choices for two roommates.
Total Running Time: 198 minutes
My Total Minutes: 418,445
First up was a German film, STUBBORN BOY (BUBE STUR.) The slice-of-life story of Hanna, a young woman recently released from prison. The last step in repaying her debt to society is community service, which she is performing on Uwe's remote dairy farm in the Black Forest. She doesn't fit in there at all, and as often as she can she escapes to the nearby town, goes partying, and makes friends in the park with a family and their foster baby. When her stubbornness (and economic hardship brought on by a milk strike) gets to be too much for Uwe, he kicks her out of the house. And as stubborn as she was to leave, she becomes just as stubborn at staying. It's a slow moving film with some great performances but not a lot of action. Which is fine, when I'm in the mood for it. And I more or less was.
My Total Minutes: 418,247
Tuesday, February 16, 2016
FRAME BY FRAME is an excellent documentary about photo-journalists in Afghanistan. Under the Taliban oppression, photography was illegal. Now that they're gone, a fledgling fourth estate is starting up. We see the people learning and teaching basic photography skills, and we get a glimpse of what Afghanistan is like now. And it's far from perfect. The bulk of the movie is devoted to the people who take great risks to document horrible things that are still happening. But through it all I felt an incredible sense of hope. That however many problems still exist--and there are many--this is a people who are once again able to tell their own stories. And that's powerful. Someone makes the point early in the movie that a people without photography do not exist. And that seems weird, since on the scale of human civilization photography is relatively recent. But by the end I'm convinced. At least in this day and age, people who are not able to take pictures are not able to tell their story. And people who can't tell their story don't exist. It's weird that photography was ever illegal. But it's even weirder to realize that photography--even when it's legal--is still a radical act.
My Total Minutes: 418,060
And it's funny. Really fucking funny. And bloody and violent. But mostly just really, really, really funny. From the opening credits that make fun of everyone involved, to the ending that spoofs/pays homage to the greatest fourth-wall breaker of all time. It's a quick ride, lots of fun, and if you don't get all the little in-jokes don't worry, another one is coming soon.
The story hits all the necessary notes. The origin story, the motivation, the characters. I could complain about on lazy script detail--that if he had just come clean to the love interest right away, there would have been no problem (I think I've said that before)...but also no movie. So I'll let that slide and just enjoy the ride.
My Total Minutes: 417,881
Monday, February 15, 2016
The first show started with a couple of shorts.
SILVER DOGS: The fictional adventure of a homeless (from divorce) comedian, his van, and his two dogs. Funny and touching.
Then, simultaneously, I watched CHUCK NORRIS VS. COMMUNISM. I'm a physicist, I can be in two places at once. It's...umm...gravity waves, that's it. It certainly has nothing to do with the fact that it's also on the Cinequest press screener list. So...this is also a Cinequest preview. If you can't make it to the next Indiefest screening, or if you're just a South Bay guy like me, there's a few chances at Cinequest.
Anyway, it's a funny documentary about Romania in the 80s, under the communist regime of the dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. And the video clubs that played American movies in secret there. In a time when a VCR cost as much as a car and could be confiscated by the secret police at any moment. Brave film fans arranged video nights (and charged admission, of course) where they would marvel about the western world and dream of being heroes. And they'd dream of Irina Nistor, the translator who dubbed nearly all the films. Her part of the story is pretty excellent, becoming the voice of hope and freedom. The film follows the story of the people behind the underground movie ring, especially the ringleader Mr. Zamfir, and thematically tells their story through clips of the very movies they showed, as well as modern interviews of them looking back at the time. As a film glutton, sometimes it gets to be too much, and I can't let movies affect me too much (if every film fully transformed me, I'd be a psychotic schizophrenic.) So it's great to see a world where films--especially easily dismissed cheesy 80s action flicks--really did make so much of a difference in people's lives.
My Total Minutes: 417,772
Sunday, February 14, 2016
My Total Minutes: 417,456
Saturday, February 13, 2016
My Total Minutes: 417,075
Friday, February 12, 2016
So then the movie, FRANK AND CINDY. Based very definitely on director G.J. Echternkamp's family (and looks like a dramatic take on his 2007 documentary of the same name,) it's the story of his mom and step-father. Frank Garcia (Oliver Platt) was the lead singer of OXO, a one-hit wonder in the 80s. Cindy (Renee Russo, completely unrecognizable in character) was his groupie, and married him. And G. J. (Johnny Simmons) is home, ready to go to arts school as a film student, and fucking hates his alcoholic mother and even worse step-father. And when he finds out that A) his mom has (claimed to have) stopped drinking and B) spent all of his savings (intended to send him to film school) on a basement studio for Frank, he gets pretty upset. And decides he's going to film them, every day, to document their horribleness.
The thing is, I didn't understand right away why the audience was roaring with laughter at moments I thought were kinda funny, but mostly uncomfortable. By the end, I was laughing along, because here's the secret--Frank and Cindy are flawed people, but G.J. is a truly horrible person. Not just torturing his parents, but sleeping with any woman who's willing, including cheating on the one girl (Jane Levy) who he might actually feel something for.
There is some resolution by the end, and a nice scene with G.J.'s biological dad (who was a cool surprise, so I won't spoil that.) And the final concert is actually...redemptive, in a way. For everyone, in fact. So G.J. didn't make a movie entirely about what a horrible person he is. That was just my favorite part of it.
Running Time: 100 minutes
My Total Minutes: 416,897
So we get our cast of zanies, all circling around Josh Brolin's Eddie Mannix, a "fixer" for Capitol Pictures. When the studio has a problem, he fixes it. Or he tries to, often times they all seem to work themselves out (even his son's issue with little league requires nothing on his part.) George Clooney is their big star Baird Whitlock, who has been kidnapped and held for ransom. Meanwhile DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) is their water-ballet star, and she has a little trouble fitting into her mermaid tail with her baby bump. Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich, who is one of the brightest spots) is their singing cowboy star, but the studio wants to change up his image and put him in a costume drama directed by Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Nathaniel Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes.) Tilda Swinton is a pair of twin gossip columnists hounding Mannix for a story, Channing Tatum is a singing / dancing star, and Jonah Hill is a...person. Literally, that's the joke, he's a person.
So they have all the wackiness, so what does it add up to? That's what I struggled with, and here's what I've come up with. The Coen Bros have made a movie about how making movies is holy work. Mannix goes to confession way too often, but in his own role he's a kind of a priest. People come to him with problems, he tries to help, but most of the time it all works out on its own. He talks daily to a person who is never seen (the studio head) and ultimately gives up his chance for a more lucrative, easier job because...he's found his calling.
Running Time: 106 minutes
My Total Minutes: 416,797
Running Time: 111 minutes
My Total Minutes: 416,691
Thursday, February 11, 2016
We end as we began, with photography. But a week of non-stop art has left us changed forever.
PEEPING TOM (1960): Carl Boehm plays Mark Lewis, an odd young man. He works on a film set, He has an interest in photography, and makes some money selling cheesecake shots to a shop that sells magazines with "girls on the front covers, and no front covers on the girls." He also lives in his parents old house, and makes ends meet by renting out the rooms. But he keeps to himself so much that his boarders don't even know that he's the landlord. He's just the creepy guy who lives upstairs and sometimes peeks in the windows. Oh yeah, and he kills girls and films it, trying to capture the best image of pure terror. See, his father was a psychologist who experimented on him to write his seminal work on childhood fear. But perhaps I've said too much. A wonderfully sleazy yet artistic flick.
BLOW-UP (1966): And then we ended the festival with probably the most important art film of the 60s. Michelangelo Antonioni dresses up a slice-of-life film about what it means to be an artist in the trappings of a murder mystery. But make no mistake, this is about art, not about a dead body. David Hemmings plays Thomas, a successful fashion photographer in London. His life is photography, parties, fashion, drugs, booze, sex. A nice life, but one that has left him somewhat bored. One day, taking some pictures in a park, he catches a couple of lovers (Vanessa Redgrave as Jane, and who cares who the guy is.) Jane insists she gets those photos back. And he promises, but not until he develops them. He keeps the negatives...just because he likes them. It's only later, when he blows them up, that he finds he might have just caught a murder on film. Or maybe it's just illusions in the grain of the film. Nope, it's murder. He goes back to the park and sees the body. But then...the film just refuses to turn into a murder mystery. He's not some super-sleuth who will catch the bad guys. We never even learn who the murderer is. Rather, it's a way to explore art. In particular, is art about discovering what's there, or is it (as the mimes who bookend the film) would have us believe, about seeing what's not there? A brilliant, fascinating film that refuses to answer.
Total Running Time: 212 minutes
My Total Minutes: 416,580