Sunday, April 16, 2017

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 11

A four movie Saturday, as the final weekend is half over. Let's jump right in.

My first show started with a short, FAJR, a beautifully shot, very stylized sunrise and morning call to prayer. Figures in silhouette, as the light grows the desert reveals some mysteries...mostly mysteries about how it was shot.

And that was the lead-in to the feature THE CHALLENGE. The film is nominally about falconry, and a competition in the Arabian desert. But don't expect to learn much about falconry. Instead, prepare to immerse yourself visually into a world of opulence, with gold-plated Harley Davidsons, a pet cheetah in a Lamborghini, and opulent bidding (in the near 100,000...but I didn't catch the currency) on a single prize falcon. There are scenes here that are as beautiful as anything I've seen in a movie (especially speeding across the dunes in souped-up SUVs.) And then there are lo-res cell phone videos that totally take me out of the film. It makes a lot more sense when you realize director Yuri Ancarani is known more as a visual artist, not a  traditional filmmaker. So think of it as spending 70 minutes in a visual art installation, more than watching a traditional documentary. Most of all, don't expect to learn much about falconry (which is a shame, because I really wanted to learn about falconry.)

Then I made my way over to the Alamo Drafthouse for I LOVE DICK. A sneak preview of a new Amazon Studios show from the creators of TRANSPARENT. Griffin Dunne plays Sylvere, a writer and scholar, working on a new take on the Holocaust, and recently awarded a fellowship at a small institute in Marfa, Texas. His wife Chris (Kathryn Hahn) is a Brooklyn filmmaker whose newest film was accepted to the Venice film festival...until it wasn't. Seems she didn't get rights for some of the music in it. So they move their passionless marriage to Marfa, where they meet the charismatic leader of the institute, artist and teacher Dick (Kevin Bacon.) And she immediately becomes obsessed with him, even when he dismisses her art, and to some extent all female artists. In fact, that kind of makes her more obsessed. And that obsession also affects Sylvere. In fact, their loveless dry spell is broken in spectacular fashion. We got a sneak preview of the first two episodes, and it looks pretty good. Definitely something to check out when it comes out later. We were also treated to a discussion with write Sarah Gubbins (oh yeah, behind the scenes, it's an all-female writer's room) and stars Griffin Dunne and Kevin Bacon. Without giving too much away, they talked about the free, almost experimental process of making the series, and how an all female-written show still has a heck of a lot of male energy in it. Also, getting naked episode after episode after episode. Also, how funny it is, it's sexy and downright silly at times.

Then I stayed at the Alamo, had a delicious beer from their menu--a Laughing Monk Evening Vespers Dubbel--and was transported to Ireland for A DATE FOR MAD MARY. Mary (Seána Kerslake) is just out of prison--she did six months for a bar fight--and doesn't have a whole lot of time to prepare to be her best friend's Charlene's (Charleigh Bailey) maid of honor. She's got the speech (Charlene wrote it for her) and the dress. What she needs most is a plus-one, to show that she's got something of a life and is grown up and isn't still the wild child they both were in school. There's a bit of a dating montage, but nothing is working right. One bloke seems like a fine choice--he needs a date for his brother's wedding, too, so they can make it a sort of business arrangement--but he splits when she asks him to dial down the "camp." Seems the only person she can even stand to be around is Jess, the videographer she hired to shoot the wedding. But it would be pretty scandalous to show up with a lesbian date for the wedding, wouldn't it?

In the hands of a less subtle team, this would just be a silly rom-com, good for a few laughs but ultimately forgettable. But the writing-directing team (brothers Colin and Darren Thornton) and especially the actresses do a fantastic job of getting into the characters and showing us something real.

Interesting, if I LOVE DICK is remarkable for women writers telling a story with lots of male energy, A DATE FOR MAD MARY reverses that, with male writers telling an excellent story through females characters. But most importantly, through interesting characters.

And then I ended the day at the Roxie with HEADSHOT, a brilliant, brutal action thriller. It opens with a super-violent prison escape, and a young man (Iko Uwais from THE RAID) washing up on the beach with no memory of his past. He's rescued by the beautiful medical student Ailin (Chelsea Islan,) who names him Ishmael (she's a fan of Moby Dick.) But they're not going to get to enjoy a peaceful life, because crime boss Lee (Sunny Pang) is looking for him--and looking to end him. And so there will be fight after fight after fight as Ishmael has to defend himself. And then when Ailin is kidnapped, he has to fight a horde of bad guys--and one exceptionally bad girl Rika (Julie Estelle)--to find his way to Lee, learn his own past, and kill him. Not an especially complicated plot, but the fight choreography is some of the best ever. A lot of fun, a great way to end the night, and a great cap to all the fantastic Dark Wave films in the festival.

Total Running Time: 342 minutes
My Total Minutes: 426,840

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 10

After playing hooky for just one little film, I was back at the festival for 3 more films on Friday.

First off I was at the Alamo Drafthouse for HEAVEN SENT, a Lebanese absurdist comedy. Omar is a bodyguard. And he has his dream job, protecting a beautiful singer who is getting into politics. Meanwhile, a man arrives to town, after walking over snow-capped mountains, is loaded into the back of a truck, and is dumped on the street outside the club where Omar's singer is performing. He tries to get in, and is pushed away a few times, until Omar finally knocks him out cold with a head-butt. Then Omar takes him home and takes care of him, because it turns out the mystery man is Omar's brother. He's been lost, and presumed dead, since the 90's. But he was a great soldier in the civil war. And why he's back is not entirely clear, except perhaps to teach Omar a lesson. But as absurd as that setup is, it's the small details where the humor comes from. The dad ranting about all the invaders that Lebanon has cut to pieces over the centuries. The feud with the neighbor across the street who plays his TV too loud. Or bodyguards discussing whether a white shirt or a black shirt (under their black coats) is better. Very funny stuff, even before the rocket launcher comes into play.

Then I made my way over to the Roxie for PARK. In 2004, Athens hosted the Olympics, and it was a grand spectacle. Now, the venues are abandoned and rundown. They've become modern Greek ruins. And they're inhabited by youth with nothing better to do and no parents in the picture. They play, their play gets kind of dangerous (it gets very dangerous to a dog, one of the unfortunate themes of the day was violence against animals) but mostly they're just aimless kids without much in the way of a hopeful future. The cast is mostly amateurs, bringing to mind some of Harmony Korine's films. The default main character is an older teenager who is kind of a leader and has a fumbling relationship with the only girl in their circle. A fascinating, real movie showing a snapshot of disaffected youth.

And finally, I ended the night with the dark wave show, MRS. K. The titular Mrs. K (Kara Wai) looks like the sweet housewife to a successful doctor, and a doting mother to her daughter. But early on, when some thieves posing as delivery men confront her, we find out that she can kick a serious amount of ass. Meanwhile, three bad guys are offed in succession, and we learn that a vengeful madman is behind it all. And he has a connection to Mrs. K and her past. Something about a casino heist, but who cares...this is all about the dizzying, bone-splitting action sequences. And they totally freakin' deliver. Especially when the daughter is kidnapped and Mrs. K has to go full rampaging vengeance mode. Awesome.

Total Running Time: 267 minutes
My Total Minutes: 426,498

Jason watches RAW

I had Friday off as a holiday at work, so I planned on 4 films at SFIFF. But when I got there, turns out that press tickets were all distributed for all the 3:00 shows. I could've gone to the venues I tried for rush tickets. Or I could've hung out in the lounge for a few hours. But instead, with a few hours to kill, I looked at what other movies were playing, then made my way to the Landmark Theaters in Embarcardero Center to check this out.

And it's a damn funny cannibal movie. Justine is a young woman who has grown up in a strict vegetarian family. She's off to veterinary school, just like her big sister Alex. Alex is quite the party girl at school, and it's quite a party school. And as a "rookie" (don't know if that's a different term or an odd translation of "freshman") she's going to be subject to a lot of hazing. And one bit of that hazing is eating a raw rabbit kidney (hey, Bunny!) She objects as a vegetarian, but Alex doesn't back her up. And so she goes through with it. And...she develops a taste for meat. Worse yet, she develops a taste for raw flesh. Worstest yet, she develops a taste for raw human flesh. And so wacky hijinx ensue. Oh, there's plenty of blood and gore, and it's all played very seriously, so I'm sure some people will object to me classifying it as a comedy. But this is definitely funny. A comedy about shambling heaps of flesh who have fucked-up relations to other flesh--shambling heaps or otherwise.

Running Time: 99 minutes
My Total Minutes: 426,231

Friday, April 14, 2017

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day9

I'm always cautious of the silent films with live music events at the festival. I've been burned before, and tend to boycott them for a few years. But this one was too good to pass up, and I was right to see DeVotchKa accompany (that's the critical word, accompany, not do a concert in front of) Dziga Vertov's THE MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA.

When I last saw this film, at the SF Silent Film Festival back in...wow, 2010, has it been that long?...I described it as a hallucination. It still kind of is. But more importantly, it's a wall-breaking film that invites the audience into the process of making the film, and invites the film into the process of making an audience. It has no intertitles. It's very explicitly attempting to invent a new language--a language of moving images that it uniquely cinematic and universal. And it shows the mechanics of film-making, but at the same time creating intentionally artificial images. If it has succeeded in creating a language of film, it's created a language where it's easy to convincingly lie, and a literate audience must be aware of that. Last time I saw it, I thought of INCEPTION (or the trailer to it) and that's even more resonant now, as INCEPTION was based on layers upon layers of artificial worlds until you literally don't know if any are true (INCEPTION was also based on shared dreaming... which is what films are.) I'm certain Chris Nolan has studied THE MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA. If not, he has at least been subconsciously influenced by other works who were influenced by it.

And DeVotchKa...they were amazing. Keeping it high-energy and fun. Accompanying the film, but recognizing it as a very very playful film. There are big ideas in there, but it's ultimately about a man playing with a movie camera. And their standing ovation was well deserved, and their encore was greatly appreciated.

Running Time: 67 of the best damn minutes ever!
My Total Minutes: 426,132

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 8

Another movie on Wednesday. This time the YouTube documentary of a YouTube star, THIS IS EVERYTHING: GIGI GORGEOUS. Born Gregory Allan Lazzarato, he was an outgoing boy (when he was a boy) and a champion diver. He was also a gender non-conformist, who did makeup tutorials online as Gregory Gorgeous. He didn't really surprise any of his family when he came out as gay. He did terribly confuse his dad David for a few seconds when he later announced he's not gay...then she explained she was transgender. And she started on the medical path to become Gigi Gorgeous.

I have to pause and give a shout-out to David Lazzarato, who is a very traditional, conservative father and if very open about his surprise at how Gigi's life as turned out, but has always been there to love and support her (even when he screws up and calls her Greg or uses male pronouns.) I don't have kids of my own, but he did make me think about how I'd feel if I were in his shoes. In my mind it came down to, 'Would I rather have a happy daughter or a miserable son?' And that answer was easy, and I suspect, without him saying it, that it was part of his thought process, too.

Anyway, back to Gigi, she's a woman now, and a celebrity. And good for her. She's vivacious, entertaining, and endlessly upbeat. She really appears to love her life (and own it...those are probably related.) That celebrity aspect is the other really fascinating aspect. Because in the past, people were celebrities for playing a role. Actors, of course. But even sports stars were famous for one skill they had, which hardly defines their entire character. So if you tell someone you met a celebrity, the first question they tend to ask is "What is she really like?" Well, with the YouTube generation, it's possible to become a celebrity for being yourself. I knew hardly anything about Gigi before seeing this movie. But I know enough that I can answer the question. What is she really like? Exactly what you see on YouTube.

Running Time: 92 minutes
My Total Minutes: 426,065

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 7

Just one event last Tuesday, but it was a great one. I made my way to the Castro for Asian Dub Foundation performing their live score to George Lucas' art film sci-fi THX 1138. It had been nearly two decades since I had watched THX 1138. And I remembered it being good, and fascinating, and very sterile and cerebral. It's a dystopian sci-fi in a world built for efficiency where people are administered drugs to keep them calm and compliant and individual thought--and especially love--are strictly forbidden. Well, THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) goes off his drugs and escapes to the surface (sorry...spoiler alert...if you can say that for a movie that 46 years old.)

What Asian Dub Foundation gave it was a beating heart and turned it into something that hit me in the gut as much as in the mind. And I suddenly realized how very, very funny this movie is. THX's big crime is...drug evasion. He frequently stops for confession at state-run kiosks ("mass for the masses") which give pre-recorded encouragement that barely matches what he confesses. And the best joke, at the very end he escapes because...the pursuing police run out of budget. The world is so devoted to efficiency that it ends up being more efficient to just let him go. And then the ending...he's just standing on the surface, out of focus, with the setting sun behind him. A gorgeous scene, but leaves you wondering if he actually won anything.

Oh, and the best part is a lot of it was shot in the under-construction tunnels of the BART (which gets a thank-you in the credits) and then I hopped on BART home.

Running Time: 88 minutes
My Total Minutes: 425,973

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 6

Most days, with my day job, I'll only be able to see one film per weeknight. But Monday was special. I wasn't going to miss the first show, BILL NYE THE SCIENCE GUY. Especially since Mr. Nye himself was there. Now most of the audience were fans of his show when they were kids. Or there were older fans whose kids were fans of his show. But I'm in the in-between generation where I was a fan because I watched his show in college--he had a pretty big following at Caltech. So I knew most of the science he was teaching, and either enjoyed his show ironically, or for the genuine entertainment value, or for just how freakin' cool it is that someone is pushing the meme that Science Rules!

Anyway, the movie mentions his show briefly, but quickly gets on to what he's been doing since then. He's the CEO of the Planetary Society  (I imagine him idolizing Carl Sagan the same way the next generation idolized him) and is making Sagan's dream of a solar sail a reality. He's brought in as an expert on news shows to talk about science, and that has gotten him into feuds. He famously debated evolution vs. creationism with young-earth creationist minister Ken Ham. And most recently, he's injected himself into the debate on global warming/climate change. Now, I don't remember years ago anyone particularly caring that Bill Nye didn't have a PhD. He was the "Science Guy" not the scientist (he's a mechanical engineer who studied a lot of physics.) But it seems once he got himself into political issues, speaking on behalf of the pro-science side, it's now a very important point to make sure everyone knows he's Mr. Nye, not Dr. Nye (because, of course, the difference between science being correct or incorrect hinges on the difference between a D and an M) Okay, enough editorializing, back to the film. A large part of the climate change section of the movie is devoted to his friendly duel with Joe Bastardi, meteorologist and outspoken skeptic of human-induced climate change. One of the funniest dynamics in the film is how Joe's son grew up as a big Bill Nye fan, and so he spends a lot of his screen time kind in amazement as his father argues with his 4th grade hero. It's very funny.

After the film, there was a brief panel discussion with Bill Nye; the filmmakers David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg; and Dr. Eugenie C. Scott, the former Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education. One of the most interesting points to come out is how public, moderated debates (like the one Nye had with Ham over creationism) are a pretty bad way at getting to scientific truth. Because debates are about scoring points and winning the debate, while science is about getting at truth. Also, because scientists are good at drilling into complicated subjects, but to win people over you need three things. A simple message...repeated...from a trusted source. Let me repeat that:
- A simple message
- Repeated
- From a trusted source

Scientists tend to be bad at the first one (but Bill Nye is great at it.) The second one anyone can do. And the third one is always tricky, because you tend to be trusted right up until you say something that your audience disagrees with. It's maintaining that trust that's hard.

I would've loved to stick around more, at least to shake Bill Nye's hand, but I had another movie to run off to, over at YBCA. I have to say, with a more spread out festival this year, I'm getting my exercise.

78/52 is an excellent documentary with an awful name that nobody understands. It refers to 78 set-ups and 52 cuts that make up the iconic shower scene in Hitchcock's PSYCHO. The circumstances in the world and in Hitchcock's career that led up to PSYCHO. The setup of the scene, and finally the scene itself. Dissected by directors, editors, actors, and the actual body double in the scene (who was hired for a 2-3 day job that went on for 7 days...just to get like 45 seconds of screen time.) How the shrieking strings make such an impact (which we had seen the day before in SCORE.) How, despite what everyone thinks, you never actually see any nudity (okay a little side-boob) or ever see the knife touch the skin (or do you? Hitchcock himself said it never happened, but the body double said that they pressed the knife against her belly, then pulled it away and ran the scene in reverse and you see it in the film.) Or how about the great sound effects of knife stabbing flesh (the key--casaba melons.) Director Alexandre O. Philippe seems to have lined up everyone in Hollywood eager to talk about the scene, then put them in a mock-up of the Bates Motel to do it, which is clever and funny wall-breaking that's appropriate for such an intense and film-geeky dissection of less than a minute of cinema.

Total Running Time: 181 minutes
My Total Minutes: 425,885

Monday, April 10, 2017

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 5

I skipped the festival on Saturday, since I have season tickets to the San Jose Earthquakes, and I've already missed the first two games. So I watched a feisty Quakes squad have a bit of bad luck but pull out a last minute draw with the Seattle Sounders in a game (this hometown fan believes) they should have won.

But I was right back at it again on Sunday, starting in the fabulous Dolby Theater for SCORE: A FILM MUSIC DOCUMENTARY.

First, let me just say that the Dolby Theater is awesome. It's mostly used by Dolby Labs and is completely state of the art, with bright, high-contrast images and spectacular sound. It's not often open to the public, so this was an amazing treat.

And the movie was just as much of a treat. An exciting and informative overview of the art, craft, experimentation, and history of movie music. Starting from the very early days, we all know the saying that "silent films were never really silent." At least a piano was played, sometimes a theater organ (usually a Wurlitzer.) And while I've learned quite a bit about silent film accompaniment over the years as an audience member, a little tidbit I learned is that the music was at least partly there to cover up the sound of the projector. I never really thought of that before.

Then we get into the sound era, and the classic Hollywood golden age scores. Another little tidbit I didn't know before--that famous 20th Century Fox fanfare? It was originally written for--and rejected by--MGM.

In a preview of something I'm looking forward to tomorrow, we got to see the famous shower scene from PSYCHO, with and without the music, to realize how tame that scene actually is, and how much terror the shrieking violins lend to it. Some thing with KING KONG--without the music, it's a cheesy and unconvincing movie, but with the music it's awesome.

Once the important of music is established, and some of the basic techniques (e.g., repeated themes) are explored, we get into the maestros. Too many to name, so I'll forget a few, but how about Morricone, Williams, Zimmer, Elfman, Reznor,...the interviews are fantastic, and show the creativity and vibrant boundary-pushing of the art. All the while, it's important that the movie never upstage the film. Somehow, if you come out thinking about what the movie was trying to do, it didn't do it. It's an art form that is subliminal. Or as Moby (I think it was him, the interviews kind of come at you fast and furious) points out, music is the only art that doesn't exist as a physical object. There are instruments, and there are recordings, and there are musicians, but the art itself is just subtle vibrations of air that vibrate your inner ear in a certain way. Fascinating stuff, in a marvelous state-of-the-art theater (seriously, I'm still kinda blown away by Dolby, and this was a great way to introduce me to the theater.)

Unfortunately, I couldn't stick around for the Q and A, because I had to run off to SFMOMA for MARIE CURIE: THE COURAGE OF KNOWLEDGE. A fascinating biopic exploring the work and life of the great woman of science, played splendidly by Karolina Gruszka. It starts off midway through, when she and her husband Pierre are awarded the Nobel Prize. Or rather, a year later when they finally agree to take a break from their work and go to Sweden to pick up the prize. Pierre is careful to give Marie credit not just for the work, but for coining the term "radioactivity." When they tell their young daughter Irene that Marie is the first woman to ever win a Nobel Prize, Irene blurts out, "Well than I shall be the second!" (spoiler alert, she was!)

But the film delves equally into her private life. Her struggles even after the Nobel to be taken seriously by the all-male scientific community. The denial of a professorship, at the hands of a boorish dean who had previously called her "fuckable" (you're left to wonder...but not too hard...what she possible could have done differently to get his approval.) And her grief after Pierre dies suddenly after slipping in a rainy street and being run over by a carriage. This happens early in the film, but it had already been well established that they were the best of partners--in life and in science. There's a beautiful scene early on where they're in bed, he snuggles up behind her, he nudges her and asks, "shall we?" She smiles and says yes, and so...they sneak down to their lab to work!

Much of a the second half of the movie is devoted to her affair with fellow physicist Paul Langevin, a married man and former student of Pierre's. The scandal--which included a severely anti-Semitic angle--was exploited by her enemies, but nevertheless she became the first person to ever win a second Nobel Prize, this time a Chemistry Prize to go with her Physics one (the only other person to win to Prizes in two fields is Linus Pauling, for Chemistry and Peace)

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, the Curies did significant research and experiments in using radiation to treat cancer. In the movie, they show a collar with chambers for doses of radium. This is especially cool, because radiation oncology is the field I work in now (for a medical device manufacturer, not as a researcher or anything...but still cool to see a movie about the founder of my field!)

Then as a bonus, we got a panel discussion with three women of science talking about their careers and the ways sexism has--or hasn't--hindered their careers. The big theme is...it's really annoying. They've generally been successful on the strength of their work and have plenty of motivation in just trying to solve scientific mysteries, but the little things, comments from colleagues and the like...that aren't a big deal individually but just get really annoying and tiring as they build up. Ya know...I probably shouldn't try to mansplain their lives. I just want to say it was really cool seeing smart, accomplished women talk. Also, learn about and check your implicit bias.

These women are really, really smart.


And finally, because I just can't get enough of powerful, inspiring women, I made my way up to the Castro for DOLORES. A great documentary about the most important activist you've never heard of (and if you're a public school student in Arizona, you'll never hear of--by law.) Dolores Huerta was a co-founder of the United Farm Workers. Not just Cesar Chavez's assistant, or his girlfriend (as one badly informed politician says in the movie.) No, she was very much his equal, and often the only one in the movement who would challenge him. She came up with "¡Si, se puede!" which Obama translated to English as his "Yes, we can!" motto (when giving her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he joked that she forgave him for stealing that.) Also, to tie it back to the start of this post, it's a pretty common chant at soccer games I've been to. She was a tireless organizer, speaker, activist, marcher. She tied the farm worker's movement to the civil rights movement, to feminism, to the environmental movement (an important point about pesticides is that we wouldn't be poisoning our crops if it were middle-class white people working in the fields.) This was before we had the word "intersectionality." Anyway, it would take way too long to explicate her total awesomeness, so instead I'll just encourage you all to see the film (PBS is releasing it in theaters this fall, and then on TV later) and wish her a happy 87th birthday, today!

Peter Bratt (director) and Dolores Huerta (superhero)

Total Running Time: 286 minutes
My Total Minutes: 425,704

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 3

Two more movies on Friday, but first a little party in the festival lounge, featuring a couple of drinks made with a Steven Soderbergh adventure, in alcohol form, Singani 63. That was freakin' tasty!

And then the world premiere of PEOPLE YOU MAY KNOW, a very funny movie about the possibilities and dangers of social media. Jed (Nick Thune) is a freelance photo editor and Photoshop wiz who spends all day staring at a screen and therefore doesn't feel the need to add to it by joining social media. He also likes to personally entertain himself by photoshopping himself into the pictures he works on (not the ones he sends to clients, just ones he keeps for himself.) Well, when a friend convinces him to join Facebook, he finds that those photoshopped pictures are pretty popular. Tasha (Halston Sage) meets him in a coffee shop, and decides to take him on as a project--turn an unknown into a social media star. She already knows he's a nice guy, and he has Photoshop skills, so they go big pretty quickly. They even meet Usher, who totally doesn't remember that time in Vegas when they met, but the picture is online so it must be true and they were just really drunk and should hang out again sometime (oh yeah, Usher was there at the premiere, too) But, of course, there's a dark side to all of this, too. The Internet is a great place to meet people, but it's also a really easy place to lie to people. And not just big 'Here's a picture of me with Usher!' lies (seriously, I saw Usher last night, but didn't get a picture with him.) There's also the little lies like 'I forgot to tell you I'm married...' Which is what happens to Jed when he runs into an old high school flame, Franky (Kaily Smith Westbrook.) A very funny movie, with some clever insights into the power and problems of social media.

And then I rushed over to the Roxie just in time for the Dark Wave show, THE TRANSFIGURATION. Milo is a black teenage loner who may or may not be a vampire. In any case, he has a thirst for blood, and a fascination with vampire movies (although when he finally sees TWILIGHT, he things it sucks--not realistic at all.) The local older kids call him a freak, and beat on him, but he has methodical ways to set up and take his victims. One day, a slightly older white girl named Sophie moves into his building. They become friends, he shows her his vampire movies (she is the one who convinces him to check out TWILIGHT.) While their friendship grows, his problem with the local bullies gets worse. It's a slow boil drama that's more about character and atmosphere than bloodshed and violence, and it makes for a strong, compelling story with a powerful, philosophical ending.

Total Running Time: 188 minutes
My Total Minutes: 425,418

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 2

Just one film last Thursday. One small drawback for me personally to the festival moving to early April is that this is the beginning of the fiscal quarter, and in my new position at work beginning of the quarter is busy, busy time (also, since it's my new position, I'm dealing with a learning curve) so I do have to be professional, get my real work done, before I can have my reel fun.

Anyway, the silver lining is that when I didn't get up to the city in time for any ~6:00 show, I had plenty of time to hang out in the lounge, invest a few more IAMs, and drink several beers, courtesy of the local Fort Point Beer Company. Lots of fun.

Then it was over to the Roxie for NOBODY SPEAK: THE TRIALS OF A FREE PRESS. This documentary tackles the Gawker/Hulk Hogan sex tape trial, from the point of view of how it attacked the principles of a free press. Heck, it literally destroyed Gawker, they are no more because of this lawsuit. And while I wasn't a fan of Gawker, I can easily see how it has a chilling effect on journalism. Not because sex tapes are (usually) important news stories, but because of how a billionaire can destroy a news outlet just because he has a grudge against them. Oh yeah, this wasn't really about Hulk Hogan, it was about Peter Thiel, the billionaire founder of PayPal who secretly funded the lawsuit (until good journalism uncovered it!) And okay, if you're not a fan of Gawker and take Thiel at his word that he has no intentions of going after other media companies, what of the precedent it sets that billionaires can destroy news companies for personal vendettas? How about Sheldon Adelson buying up the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the paper of record in Nevada? Or how about Donald Trump going after...everyone in the news media?

But with all that, what I found most fascinating was the subtle legal machinations at work in the Hulk Hogan sex tape trial (I hope I only felt that because I was already on the pro-free press side of the big issue.) In one move, the plaintiffs dropped any claim that Terry Bollea suffered emotional distress. That's because that would fall under the terms of Gawker's insurance policy, and so if they lost their insurance would have to cover the costs. Instead, they made Gawker (and the owner and editors) personally liable for everything. Because it wasn't about maximizing the award, it was about destroying the company. The other interesting point is how much hinged on the notion that Hulk Hogan and Terry Bollea are separate persons. They inhabit the same body and have the same voice, but Hulk Hogan is a character created by Terry Bollea and that character is a public person--who therefore gives up some of his right to privacy. For example, if you go on the Howard Stern show and brag about your sex life and the size of your penis, then a sex tape of you actually is newsworthy. But Terry Bollea, on the other hand, is a private person, and is afforded greater privacy rights, so details of his sex life are not newsworthy. I'm no lawyer, but I believe the technical term for that is...bullshit!

Running Time: 93 minutes
My Total Minutes: 425,230

Jason goes to SFFILM--Opening Night

The biggest party of the year started last Wednesday night, and of course I was there. One quick note, for people who are used to seeing me post this time of year (or a few weeks later) about SFIFF...this is the same thing, rebranded as SFFILM, and the festival is moved to early April.

After the opening remarks and thank-yous from SFFILM Executive Director Noah Cowan, and an introduction from Director of Programming Rachel Rosen, we settled in for the film.

LANDLINE is a very funny comedy about a screwed up family in the 90s (you know, back when landline telephones were a thing.) Mom and Dad (Edie Falco and John Turturro) have a failing marriage, she thinks he's a failure, he's having an affair. Youngest daughter Dana (Jenny Slate) is nervous about marrying her boyfriend Ben (Jay Duplass) and reconnects with her old college friend Nate (Finn Wittrock.) And youngest daughter Ali (Abby Quinn) goes out clubbing and is on drugs--and she's the normal one. Hilarity ensues, as everyone attempts to follow their own bliss, not exactly caring about who they hurt along the way. Until it becomes clear they are hurting the very people who keep them grounded--their personal landlines--and they attempt to navigate their way back. They're probably not the sort of people I would want to know in real life, but they're certainly entertaining to watch for 96 minutes.

Then a short discussion and Q&A with Jenny Slate, Abby Quinn, and writer/producer Elisabeth Holm. With Rachel Rosen leading the discussion, it was pretty cool to see four smart, talented, funny women talking on stage.

Then over to the Regency Center for the after party. A little food, a lot of drinks, and investing some new people into IAM-Intrepid Audience Members. As the official west coast proxy for this not-very-secret society, I have pins to give out if you're willing to take an oath, learn a handshake, and be intrepid in your support of the arts. Hey, you know where's a great place to do that? At the SFFILM Festival! Just look for the guy with the big hair and top hat who sits in the front row.

Running Time: 96 minutes
My Total Minutes: 425,137

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Jason goes to Niles for a Buster Keaton Weekend--part 2

The fun continued on Sunday

First up was a panel discussion with Harry Keaton (Buster's nephew) and historians Martha Jett and Lloyd Williams. Led by our very own Larry Telles, it was a jovial conversation about Buster, mostly about debunking the rumors about his life. No, he wasn't illiterate. He didn't have much schooling but was tutored on the road in the tent shows/vaudeville circuit. Yes, Harry Houdini was a family friend, and Buster's dad Joe Keaton did tell the story of how Harry Houdini named him "Buster." But Joe was also a great...advertiser. So let's go ahead and call that one true. We also had great stories of Buster shooting his classic THE GENERAL in Cottage Grove, Oregon, and how he became a fixture in the town for a time.

And that was a nice lead-in to a very short clip of Buster Keaton on location shooting THE GENERAL.

And then a Warner Brothers Cartoon HOLLYWOOD STEPS OUT, featuring a shot of cartoon Buster Keaton. Check out the Wikipedia article for all the references its making.

Then we were treated to s series of commercials Buster did later in his career for Alka-Seltzer, Country Club Malt Lager, and more.

And finally, that afternoon was the grand finale, ending with his greatest classic. More copy-paste from previous times I've seen them.

THE SCARECROW (1920):
Buster and his fellow farmhand (who live in a wonderfully inventive house. Eating breakfast is an adventure in and of itself) are both after the hand of the farmer's lovely daughter. Wacky hijinx ensue, eventually leading to Buster disguising himself as a scarecrow. And getting the girl--actually matrimony is the recurring theme in these shorts.
Yup, still hilarious.

THE BOAT (1921):
THE BOAT (1921): Buster Keaton in yet another movie I'd seen before at Niles. Here's what I said in August 2009:
Buster Keaton's classic of destruction. Just trying to take his boat the Damfino on it's maiden voyage, he destroys his house, his car, the dock, and more. He ends up soaked, the Damfino does somersaults on the waves, and when he sends an S.O.S and they ask what boat is calling, answering "Damfino" doesn't result in help.
Yup, that sums it up pretty well. Plus there's a treat at the end for any lip-readers.
Yeah, pardon the nested references to previous reviews. I've seen it a few times. An excellent showcase of Keaton's inventiveness, as well as his physical skills. Also, I should recommend Kevin Brownlow's excellent "The Parade's Gone By" for...well, for many reasons. But high among them is Keaton's description of how he finally pulled off the boat-sinking gag. So much work for just a couple of seconds of screen time. But perfectionism pays off this time.

And finally...

THE GENERAL (1926):
Buster Keaton's classic! No need, really, to describe it. If you haven't seen it, just go see it. But I will tell you instead about the first time I saw it on the big screen. Which was at the Castro. And with the Alloy Orchestra. This was at the San Francisco International Film Festival in...I think 2004. I had seen a few silent films before, but mostly on DVD at home and it might have been my first experience seeing a silent film in a theater with live music. At the very least, it was the first time I really appreciated what the big screen, enthusiastic audience, and live music can do for a film. It was then that I realized you haven't necessarily "seen" a silent film if you only watched it alone at home. It was a complete revelation, and still one of my favorite film events ever. And it definitely holds up to multiple viewings.
Huh. Well, that's not very descriptive. So here goes. It's actually based on a true story from the Civil War, and Buster plays a Confederate engineer (train driver, not thing builder) named Johnie Gray. He tries to enlist, but is rejected because he's too valuable to the Confederacy as an engineer. But when his engine is stolen, he chases it behind Union lines, steals it back, and saves the day. You do have to be able to accept a Confederate as the hero, but this isn't a politically charged film like BIRTH OF A NATION. It's just a fact that the story is one of Confederate heroism. Anyway, I found it easy to get over it. And it's both a hilarious physical comedy, but also a thrilling action flick. And it's fantastic on both counts. Truly a master at the top of his game.

Total Running Time: 129 minutes
My Total Minutes: 425,041

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Jason goes to Niles for Buster Keaton Weekend, Part 1

Last weekend was a Keaton-palooza at Niles. I missed the opening night so I could see the US whup Honduras 6-0 at Avaya Stadium, but I was there for a full day of Keaton hilariousness on Saturday.

Most of the films I had seen before, so let's look at what I wrote before.

THE HAUNTED HOUSE (1921):
Buster Keaton is a clumsy bank clerk. Counterfeiters have rigged up their hideout to seem like it's haunted to scare people away. But Buster and an awful cast of actors in costume for Faust have some wacky hijinx in there and end up foiling the crooks. Hilarious.
Yup, that's right.

THE HIGH SIGN (1921):
Keaton as a not-so-sharp sharpshooter who is simultaneously hired to protect and assassinate the local miser August Nickelnurser. The Blinking Buzzards want to kill him because he has refused to pay their extortion price. So not only does Mr. Nickelnurser hire the most inept bodyguard, he also rigs his house with all sorts of secret passages, leading to a pretty frantic and hilarious final act chase.
Yup, and "hilarious" is going to be a theme of this weekend.

THE CAMERAMAN (1928):
What can I say, this is Buster Keaton being a comic genius. It's also the first film he made for MGM, and the start of him losing control over his own films--something he later called his worst mistake in his life. But he's still great in this as a humble tin-type photographer who sees a pretty girl (Marceline Day,) finds out she works at an MGM newsreel office, and decides to clear out his savings account to buy movie camera, get the great footage, and really impress her. He just has a bit of a learning curve. But with his stone-faced gumption and a very clever monkey, he saves the day. It also includes a hilarious public pool sequence that is surprisingly risque for the time. Hilarious, and I just had to wonder how the cameramen on the movie felt about the scene showing a monkey could do their job.
Ooh, "comic genius" should also be a theme of the weekend.

Then a short intermission and on to the next show!

ONE WEEK (1920):
Buster Keaton in one of his best shorts. He and his new wife are given a house as a wedding gift. Trouble is, it comes as a kit, unbuilt. Bigger trouble, the man she turned down to marry Buster messes with the numbers on the kit and they end up with the craziest house ever.
Yup, one of his best shorts. Also, it's not just built crazily, there's a huge storm that destroys their housewarming. Also, I love this observation I made about the house in ONE WEEK and Richard Elfman's THE FORBIDDEN ZONE, and VIDEO DIARY OF A LOST GIRL. Remember, one of the best reasons to watch silent films is because they're still inspiring modern films!

THE PLAY HOUSE (1920):
It opens with a brilliant all-Buster vaudeville show--including an all-Buster audience (and it bears reminding that this was all done in camera--no CGI, no green screen. All these tricks were done in-camera.) Then Buster wakes up and he's just a stagehand backstage in the theater. But he does get his chance to shine when the monkey escapes and he fills in at the last minute. Pretty hilarious. And, of course, he gets the girl in the end but that's really just a side plot--the recurring gag is that there are twins and he's always grabbing the wrong one.
Yeah, "brilliant." That's another word that should dominate the weekend.

STEAMBOAT BILL JR.  (1928):
The Buster Keaton classic. What can I say? Keaton at the top of his game, playing the puny college son of burly steamboat captain William "Steamboat Bill" Canfield (Ernest Torrence.) He's an embarrassment to his father, and to make things worse it turns out his college sweetheart is actually the daughter of his father's worst enemy, the rich and powerful (and appropriately named) Mr. King. It seems he's in for nothing but trouble, but when a big storm hits town, Steamboat Bill, Jr. uses his wits to save everyone and win the girl. It also features one of Keaton's most famous gags--where the side of a house falls on him, leaving him unscathed as the open window frame falls right around him.
"Classic" absolutely. I actually believe there's a legitimate debate to be made over whether this or THE GENERAL is Keaton's greatest masterpiece.

Another intermission, a little Bronco Billy's pizza, and on to the evening show!
COPS (1922):
Buster Keaton, in one of him most famous shorts. Through a series of missteps, he ends up stealing a policeman's wallet, "buying" a truckload of a furniture, and ending up in the policeman's parade. And that's just the start, as his wacky missteps lead to the entire police force chasing after him. All, of course, to make something of himself and win the hand of his girlfriend.
Yup, one of his most famous and most hilarious. And I'll add a shout-out to the "goat glands" scene. If you want to know more, there's a hilarious documentary about the doctor who pioneered goat glands treatment, NUTS.

THE BLACKSMITH(1922):
A workplace theme, with Keaton as a blacksmith's (way too weak) assistant. He shoes a horse, gets filth all over it, and destroys a beautiful white Rolls Royce. A bit of trivia--the car he destroys is his own, given to him by in-laws with whom he was no longer on speaking terms. A bit of on-screen real life revenge.
True, but I forgot to say something like "hilarious" or "classic" or "brilliant." It's all of these things.

COLLEGE (1927): Hmmm...this appears to be the only one that I hadn't blogged about before. I think I had only seen it on DVD at home before. Anyway, Keaton plays the valedictorian at his high school, but his speech is kind of upstaged by a rainy day and a warm heater that shrinks his clothes in a very embarrassing way. Anyway, anyone who listened to his speech knows he is a fan of books and not a fan of sports. Unfortunately, his girlfriend doesn't particularly like that attitude, so when he gets to the same college as her, he tries out for all kinds of sports. Baseball, track and field, etc. And he fails at all, with hilarious results. Eventually he's put on the crew team as the coxswain--partly because he's small and smart, but mostly because the dean likes him and sympathizes with his romantic plight. But his real athletic prowess comes when he finds out that his girl is being held in her room and threatened by the campus jock (a scene that is way too creepy to fly in a modern film.)

And that was last Saturday at Niles. Awesome, hilarious fun, made even better by the fact that I barely had to write anything new, I could blog most of the day just by cutting and pasting!

Total Running Time: 363 minutes
My Total Minutes: 424,912

Jason watches THE SENSE OF AN ENDING

As usual, even after Cinequest ends, it's never really over. This was playing at the theater near my work, and knowing it had the Cinequest stamp of approval, I had to see it.

It's a superbly acted movie, starting with Jim Broadbent as Tony Webster, an aging semi-retired proprietor of a camera shop, who learns that he has been bequeathed a diary written by his best friend from school. Tony has formed something of a life. An ex-wife, a daughter (and a grandchild on the way) but also a reputation as kind of a curmudgeon who doesn't care much at all about other people. The movie jumps back and forth between his current years and his school days, showing the audience his old friends, his first love Veronica (played in current years by Charlotte Rampling) and his best school friend Adrian (Joe Alwyn.) It crafts an excellent, character-driven story about regret, responsibility, memory, and the "story" part of your personal history.

Let me think...nope, I can't reveal more than that. Sorry. But go see this. It might be slow at first, but it'll pay off. Kind of like life.

Running Time: 108 minutes
My Total Minutes: 424,549

Jason watches GET OUT

Cool freakin' movie. Definitely lives up to all the praise it's getting.

A very modern horror film, which is smart enough to warrant several viewings, while also individual enough to know that I, as a white man, will never truly understand the full significance of the horror involved. A young black man Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is dating a white woman Rose (Allison Williams) and is finally meeting her parents (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford.) They seem super nice, if in a sort of trying-too-hard-to-prove-they're-not-racist way (this would make an interesting double feature with LITTLE BOXES.) But there's something strange going on. Starting with Rose's mom hypnotizing Chris, ostensibly to cure his cravings to smoke, but totally without his consent. Then it gets...weird, in a way that I don't want to spoil. But I can say I loved the way it played with expectations and overturned common horror cliches--starting with the cliche that the black guy dies early.

You know what? Lots of people have written about how smart this movie is. They're right, it's great. Especially how well written it is. I'm not that good of a writer. You shouldn't be convinced by my stupid blog. Instead you should watch it yourself.

Oh, and of course director Jordan Peele, famous for the Comedy Central show KEY AND PEELE, makes an odd choice with horror for his directorial debut. I can attest that it's also a very funny movie, and his comedy chops are definitely used in his ability to challenge and subvert expectations. And while I'm sure he'll make comedies in the future (and I'm sure I'll enjoy them) here's hoping that he'll also continue playing in the horror genre.

Running Time: 104 minutes
My Total Minutes: 424,441

Jason goes to CAAMFest--Closing Night

I only caught one film, the big closing night gala. But first, the most important news ever!

Next year, CAAMFest is moving from March to May. Which is great not only because it's Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. It also means no more conflicts with Cinequest! Woo hoo! Best news ever!!!

Okay, then there was a lot of speechifying, a lot of thanking of everyone who makes CAAMFest possible (allow me to echo all those thank-yous, especially for the volunteers) and finally on to the closing night film

THE CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT is a wonderful documentary, logging in at over 2 1/2 hours, but flying by like it's taking a brief overview of Chinese American history, and it's extraordinarily educational. First thing I learned was a pretty cool local positive, the namesake of the Bay Area city of Burlingame. Anson Burlingame was the first American minister to China (appointed by Abraham Lincoln,) and was so good at it that when his term was up, the Chinese hired him to be their envoy to Washington. We could even back up before that time to how important Chinese trade (ummm...including opium) was to the fledgling United States, but I like the Burlingame story. Especially how it concludes with the Burlingame Treaty, which provided basically unlimited immigration between China and America.

So then things go kind of bad. Chinese labor builds the railroads, but then...what are these new Chinese Americans to do? How do they live? Well, the resentment to all these "others" took root on the Pacific coast, especially in California (an interesting contrast to our current liberal, pro-immigrant attitudes.) Over the years, the resentment in California sets in, and turns into attempts to curb/ban Chinese immigration, but it's consistently stymied by the Burlingame Treaty. Until finally, with the help of the southern states suffering under Reconstruction, the Chinese Exclusion Act is passed. At this point, the movie has a lot to say about the injustice of banning an entire people--not just based on country, but based on ethnicity--not just from immigration but from ever becoming citizens, even if they are already here in America. And there's plenty of that but the cheers in the audience came up from the stories of resistance. There are many cool stories in that vein (my favorite is the story of how birthright citizenship was formalized by a SCOTUS decision about a Chinese American man, Wong Kim Ark.)

There's a lot going on in this documentary, there's no way I could summarize it all. Best I can say is that it's fascinating, relevant for our times, and coming soon to a PBS station near you.

Running Time: 160 minutes
My Total Minutes: 424,337

Monday, March 27, 2017

Jason goes to CAAMFest--The Penultimate Day

Finally, a full day of CAAMFesting, I spent all day at the New Parkway, sampling their beers and chowing down on their food and enjoying the movies.

Fist up was THE TIGER HUNTER, a wonderful little comedy about an Indian making it big in 1970's America. Sami Malek's father was a great man. He hunted and killed the tiger that was terrorizing their village, and was a hero and beloved for his whole life. Sami is an engineer, who runs a little repair shop in his village. But he can't get the girl of his dreams (whose father is an important general) until he becomes rich and successful. There's no hope for that in the village, so they take up a collection and send him to America, where he has a job offer from a big engineering firm. But when he arrives in 1970's Chicago, the job isn't actually there, and he finds himself living in a single apartment with about a dozen other Indians/Pakistanis, all engineering geniuses working menial jobs in America. Nevertheless, with an upbeat attitude and some brains, he becomes an important part of the team who invents the first microwave oven to evenly heat frozen food. A wonderful little comedy, with some screwball antics but also a really sweet heart about all that's more important than simple financial success.

Then the shorts program Center Stage, shorts about performers!
CLIFF, SUPERFAN!: Cliff Hiyashi has attended thousands of Stanford games, of all kinds of sports. And he's the first and loudest in the stands, to the point where sometimes people will go to see him more than the sport itself. He was actually there in the audience, and seems like a really cool guy.
DANCING THROUGH LIFE: THE DOROTHY TOY STORY: The excellent life and career of Dorothy Toy, and her dance partner (and briefly her husband) Paul Wing, who were the top Asian American dance team for decades. At 99 years old, she doesn't dance anymore, but she is still an inspiring person.
KANON ROCK: A brilliant and beautiful animated spectacle of Pachabel's Canon, updated for modern days with a bit of a rock and roll style. Awesome.
SONG ON CANVAS: A young man, trapped in the corporate world, gets an important reminder of his artistic soul, courtesy of his mother.
SPEAK CHINGLISH: A young Asian American actress botches another audition, by not speaking in a ching-chong accent, but instead just being talented. As funny as it is sad and wrong.

Next up was a bit of action-heist fun with BITCOINS HEIST, from Vietnam. A wild adventure of computer viruses, blackmail, high stakes, revenge, and super-complicated plots. Oh, and magic. A criminal payoff goes awry, and the cops end up with a very clever accountant for some very bad people. And after a sting goes bad, the lead cop decides to use the accountant to catch the bad guy. But in order to do that, she needs to put together an elite team of criminals to pull a heist on the bad guy. Think of it like SUICIDE SQUAD, but it doesn't suck (note: I haven't actually seen SUICIDE SQUAD.) Fun, complicated, hilarious, and head spinning. And some great damn magic. Excellent fun.

And finally, I ended the night with CARDINAL X. Set in a fictional San Francisco Bay Area college that is definitely not Stanford--the school is the Cardinal, but the bird not the color--it's the story of a lower class girl, Angie Wang, who gets into a prestigious west coast school. She's introduced to Ecstasy at a party, and likes it. She's also a chemistry genius, so when she loses her academic scholarship, she starts manufacturing her own X, and becomes the major supplier of West Coast party scene. But she's still a good girl, as evidenced by how she helps out a little girl named Bree, whose father is frequently absent and whose mother is frequently too high on crack to take care of her. Bree reminds her somewhat of her own past, but Angie isn't quite self-aware enough to see how much damage her business is doing, and how bad it can get if she starts a fight with the club that distributes her product. A cool story about life spiraling out of control, and how to get back to what's really important.

Total Running Time: 386 minutes
My Total Minutes: 424,177

Jason goes to CAAMFest--March 16

Two more movies, in my abbreviated CAAMFest.

First up was a special presentation of BROWN GIRLS, a rare opportunity to see a web series on the big screen. Created by Fatimah Asghar, and loosely based on her own life (her surrogate character is Leila, a South Asian writer,) it's a pretty funny series. She and her friends have money problems. relationship problems (it's a pretty queer series, without treating that as anything unusual,) and problems with trying to make Indian food using pizza dough. It's funny, and real, and the friends are immediately likable despite their flaws. Fun time.

Next up was APPRENTICE, an excellent prison drama from Singapore. Aiman is a young man recently employed as a prison guard. But he still lives with his sister who gives him no respect. Aiman becomes friends with Rahim, the prison executioner, and eventually becomes his apprentice. Rahim is fascinating as a man who kills people--legally--for a living. But he's a professional, and he is committed to making sure people die (by hanging) as quickly and painlessly as possible. Oh year, there's also a little bit of history between Rahim and Aiman, as it turns out Aiman's father was a criminal, who Rahim executed. Oh, and Aiman not revealing that on his employment application is a firing offense. A great story, with great characterizations.

Total Running Time: 143 minutes
My Total Minutes:423,791

Jason goes to CAAMFest--March 14

I missed about half the festival for Cinequest, so two weeks ago Tuesday I finally made it to CAAMFest for a couple of shows, starting with the documentary MY NEXT STEP. Kunqu opera is a 600 year old art form in China. In 2001, UNESCO designated it an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. And yet, it's not that popular with the younger generations in China. The documentary follows Yang Yang, a young performer of wusheng--the martial hero. It's not a popular role in Kunqu, where the most popular stories are of young students falling in love. Yang Yang likes his art form, but is ambivalent about its future, and his ability to make a stable, comfortable living doing it. The movie is a frank look at those who sacrifice for art, and maybe those who decide it's not worth it. About what it takes to keep an ancient art form alive, but also maybe what it looks like when it ends.

Then the next film was SINGING IN GRAVEYARDS. I have to admit I didn't know who Joey "Pepe" Smith is. And looking him up afterward made the movie much more interesting. The real Joey Smith stars as himself, the old godfather of "Pinoy Rock." He also plays Pepe, the world's best Joey Smith impersonator, who scrapes by with his act in a somewhat seedy bar, where he's not even the best performer of Joey Smith classics. But Pepe has his last chance at his rock fantasy when Joey chooses him as the opening act for his big reunion tour, even agrees to let Pepe write a new song for him. This is all fun and interesting, especially the self-deprecating good humor, but then it just starts dragging on and on forever. Then I saw Lav Diaz's name in the credits, and it all made sense. Diaz is a master of the "slow cinema" movement, and can somehow make 8 hour movies that are completely fascinating. Director Bradley Liew has obviously been influenced by him. But where Diaz can make a riveting 8 hour movie, Liew has made an interesting movie that drags on at 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Total Running Time: 207 minutes
My Total Minutes: 423,648

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Jason Watches LOGAN

And it's really good. Brutal, but good. Maybe the best comic book movie ever...except that it's arguably not a comic book movie. In fact, it explicitly takes place in a universe where X-MEN comic books exist, as some sort of pop-propaganda for their adventures. Which makes me wonder...is this in the same universe as the previous X-MEN movies, or in a universe where they exist as movie?

Anyway, Logan is a very special man, the only one who can save a little girl with special powers. Special powers that make the powers that be very interested in her. They want her as a weapon. But if not that, they want to destroy her....  Wait a minute....

Maybe I just finished Cinequest, and my mind is still there, but isn't this kind of a rip-off of PRODIGY?

Running Time: 141 minutes
My Total Minutes: 423,441

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Jason goes to Cinequest--Closing Night

After staying up partying until ~4:30 am (with the help of Daylight Savings Time...grrrr....) I was still up at 10 am for the first Stella in the VIP lounge before heading off to IMITATION GIRL. It's a beautifully lyrical story of two girls, who are kind of the same girl, and who are both leading an artificial life. One is an alien. As in, a spaceship landed in the desert of the American southwest, black ooze came out, and took the form of the first person it saw--the cover girl on a porn mag. That girl is Julianna Fox (at least, that's her stage name) and she's desperately trying to get a break and act in more respectable roles. The alien version has to learn the basics of her new body--how to eat, drink, everything about life, and a kind family of Iranian immigrants take her in and take care of her. Her basic naivety is a stark contrast to real Julianna's world-weariness. And then they start seeing each other in the mirror. The whole thing plays out like a dream, but with gentleness, grace, and love that never judges its characters. Instead it offers humanity a valuable gift--an outsider's perspective.

Then I skipped a movie in favor of resting up...and drinking more in the lounge.

And then for some laughs, with the mockumentary KING OF THE BELGIANS. Narrated by the cynical English director Duncan Lloyd, it starts as a travelogue of King Nicolas II of Belgium traveling to Turkey for a diplomatic ceremony. But while he's there, there's word of a domestic crisis, possibly bordering on civil war. So he has to return home. But then a solar flare knocks out air travel communications and their cell phones. So with his small entourage and the documentary crew, they have to go through a series of wacky adventures, lost in the Balkans, trying to find their way home. Totally hilarious.

And then, after another drink or three in the lounge, it was finally time for the closing night film. But first, they showed a few of the short film jury winners.

CARD SHARK: The story of a little boy playing poker with his goldfish is still hilarious.
HISTORY OF MAGIC: ENSUENO: This animated journey of a girl biking through West Texas is stll hilarious--although I saw it at Indiefest, not at Cinequest.
PERFECTLY NORMAL: This documentary of a high-functioning autistic man with a strong imagination shows his struggle but also his successes at creating a stable life. Powerful and moving. And I hadn't seen it before, so that was really cool. (I have a lot of Cinequest short film screeners to catch up on.)

And then they brought back one of my favorite things from Cinequests past. They invited all the filmmakers who were still present up onto the stage so they could all get a standing ovation (although, they needed to improve their communication--some of the filmmakers who were up in the balcony were sort of caught by surprise.) They announced a few more of the jury award winners, including my new friends from PAINLESS winning the New Visions award (tied with PROM KING 2010, and they were both great movies so I can't complain about that.)

And then finally, the closing night film.

THE ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE is based on a true story and directed by Niki Caro (WHALE RIDER.) Dr. Jan Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh) and his wife Antonina (Jessica Chastain) are custodians of the Warsaw Zoo. And they've done a great job, but the Nazi invasion throws a wrench into everything. First, the zoo is bombed and many of the animals run away (so yeah, at one point there's a tiger prowling around Warsaw.) Second, the zoo is under the control of chief zoologist Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl) In the beginning, he insists he doesn't care about politics, only about zoology. And he has a crazy idea to bring the extinct aurochs back to life through a specialized breeding program. But, of course, he's also a Nazi and is certainly prone to abusing his power to get what he wants...like Antonina. But the more important plotline is how Jan and Antonina work with the resistance to smuggle Jews out of the ghetto into the zoo (hiding them under the garbage they use as animal feed) and then on to safety. It's the sort of amazing story that you'd be inclined to dismiss as Hollywood fantasy (especially the ending,) except for the fact that it really did happen (although I wouldn't be able to speak to some of the particular events.) Anyway, a nice, uplifting film to elevate the end of the festival (and I'll refrain from commenting on any lessons it might give us for fighting fascism today.)

And then off to the closing party at the Hyatt. More snacks, lots of drinks, a melted cheese fountain, a  silly video with a great example of how not to drive there (both in terms of drinking and not keeping your hands on the wheel.

Well, the only problem with that party was last call was some time around 11 pm to midnight. And a heck of a lot of us still wanted to party. Luckily I planned ahead, for an after-after party at the Fairmont, where we once again stayed up until about 4 a.m. And a great time was had by all!

Thank you everyone for a great Cinequest 2017!

Total Running Time: 329
My Total Minutes: 423,300

Jason goes to Cinequest--The Penultimate Day

Cinequest has been over for about a week. I guess it's time to write up the final days.

So Friday night ended with me staying up with filmmakers, friends, and assorted Cinequestarians until about 2 a.m. But I was still up bright and early for a few drinks in the VIP lounge before my first event, the first of two Maverick Spirit Awards, this one honoring Fred Armisen.

We started with a replay of the hilarious short THE 11 O'CLOCK. I love this crazy movie. A psychiatrist treats a patient who thinks he's a psychiatrist. And since the regular secretary is out this morning, we don't exactly know who's who.

That had nothing to do with Fred Armisen, other than it was hilarious. Sal Pizarro interviewed him, and he was hilarious. He reminded me of something Woody Allen used to say about comedy. The audience doesn't want you to tell jokes, they just want you to be funny. If you can do that, you can read the phone book and they'll laugh. Well, Fred didn't read the phone book, but I would see a one-man show of him just listing things you can buy with money. Like clothes. You can go to a clothing store, try on clothes, decide you like them, and then pay for them...with money. Or real estate, you can buy a home. And you can move in there, keep your stuff there, and there's no landlord, because you own it. Or you can travel, like to Italy. (For some reason, Fred thinks San Jose is a lot like Italy. Which is cool, I guess.)

I also really liked that our other Maverick Spirit honoree, Jane Lynch, decided to show up and see his show. And then they started designing a car. Or rather, a car horn. One with different sounds for different purposes, because so far all car horns sound angry. There should be one that's gentler. Or one for "hey, I see my friend!" Or one for "hey, that wasn't me honking at you, that was the other guy. He's the a-hole." If available, I would get that car horn installed. For money. That's another thing you can buy with money!

Okay, then back to movies, this time in Denmark/Sweden (filmmakers are Danish, but shot in Sweden) with SECLUDED, featuring what I consider the best cinematography I've seen in the whole festival. It's a tense dramatic thriller about a family that looks perfect on the outside but is being torn apart by secrets. Sarah and her parents are on their way to a vacation in a remote cabin in the wilderness. On the way there, she learns that a sex tape of her was made at a party where she was very drunk. And apparently it's circulating online. And then they get too far out in the wilderness and she loses cell reception. She's not very far off when she declares that her father would kill her if he found out. It turns out her sex tape is not the only family secret, and over the week out there, more secrets come out and things go from happy family to tense to dangerous really quick. Director Anders Fløe has made his feature debut something very special, and he will be a talent to watch I hope and assume for a long time.

Unfortunately, the audience was rushed out of the theater for the next event, so the Q&A was in the lobby. But a good crowd followed there, and they all had positive things to say about the film. I just wish they had the honor of doing the Q&A on the stage of the California Theatre.

That next event was Maverick Spirit Award, this time honoring Jane Lynch. Another hilarious person, and poked a little fun when interviewer/Cinequest co-founder and President Kathleen Powell made a poorly-worded question about her "box." I have to say, as well as being a great actor and a very funny person, I've really appreciated how Jane showed up for a couple of days in the festival, how she showed up to the Soiree the day before, and how readily she'll pose for a picture with a fan (even though, for the record, I didn't even ask for a picture. I just wanted to shake her hand and thank her for coming.)

Also, she's an Intrepid Audience Member, so that makes her extra cool!

They also showed her new short film, WRITER'S BLOCK. Jane Lynch plays a songwriter with bad case of writer's block. Andy Kindler is hilarious as her nagging agent, and they skewer some of the culture and cliches of the entertainment industry. Then a little birdy helps her out. No, literally, she copies the melodies of a songbird. So she has to take care of that bird really, really well. Very funny.

And then I just kept staying in the California Theatre, this time for THE ASSIGNMENT (listed in the program as (RE)ASSIGNMENT, which I like better.) Walter Hill's latest is a twisted comic-book tale starring Michelle Rodriguez and featuring a scene of her penis. Actually, it features full frontal nudity of her with both male and female equipment, which is weird and kind of unsettling. She plays Frank Kitchen, a hitman who looks too much like Michelle Rodriguez in drag for it to not be distracting. He kills the brother of stone-cold Dr. Rachel Kay (Sigourney Weaver) who is a wealthy plastic surgeon who tracks him down, and...does him a favor...by freeing him from the constraints of macho, toxic masculinity. Yeah, she gives him a forced sex-change. And he doesn't appreciate it. And he's back for revenge.

Okay, I have to comment a little bit on the controversy around this movie. It has drawn the fire of those who say this plot is offensive to those in the transgender community. And Walter Hill was there and spoke afterward about how it's nowhere near his intention to make fun of anyone in that community. I can see that. There's really no transgender character in the whole film. It's a film about genital mutilation surgery, the guy that happens to is pissed about it, and the doctor who performs it is certifiably insane. Oh yeah, the movie opens with her in a strait jacket being interrogated by a psychiatrist (Tony Shalhoub, being typically excellent.) I don't know how to emphasize more "this character is crazy!!!" And I think that's important in watching this film, it is explicitly, intentionally filtered through an unreliable, insane narrator.

Whatever, it's far from a perfect movie but I had fun with it. Controversy be damned.

Then I just called it an early night, went back to my hotel room, read a few chapters in the Bible, had a nice glass of warm milk, and went directly to bed. Ha ha, no! I went to the Maverick Meetup at SP2, which went on until most people were ready to go to bed, but the die-hard few went back to my room and partied until something like 4:30 a.m. because we're all rock stars at Cinequest!

Total Running Time: 200 minutes
My Total Minutes: 422,971

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 11

Friday, the start of the final weekend. And my Friday started with WEDNESDAY, because that's what Cinequest does to me. From Iran, WEDNESDAY is a reference to the execution date for an unseen man. He killed another man, and the grieving family has waited years for justice to be served. Now the only thing left is for them to actively choose to execute him. To kick the stool out from under him and hang him. Complication--he's an in-law, and the question of whether to kill him or let him live the rest of his life in prison is causing a rift in the family. Especially when you add the further complication that the newlyweds are expecting a baby. A powerful drama told through arguments and debates on honor vs. mercy, and the notion of what, ultimately, is right.

Then a couple more drinks in the VIP lounge, and my first experience with VR. I watched a short documentary called UNDER THE NET from the United Nations Foundation's Nothing But Nets Campaign. You can see life as an 11 year old refugee in Tanzania, and how mosquito nets save lives. And it's a good documentary, but I'm not convinced VR adds anything to it. That is, it would still be a good documentary with a powerful message as a traditional movie. Putting it in VR means I can move my head around and see...things that aren't in the center of the screen. Which is typically...pointless. It's cool technology, but in a movie the director, cameraman, and editor make very distinct choices about where to look, and in VR that choice is given to me. And I'm an idiot about that. I understand how it could work for games or immersive worlds, but watching the film I was very aware that I was using the technology to look elsewhere than the intended object of focus. Maybe I need more practice at watching VR, but for now I just don't think it's my thing.

Then I caught a series of shorts at the Hammer Theatre, and finally met up with my brother-from-another-mother, Chris Garcia. And when there were some technical difficulties, I even had to get up there and vamp with him for a bit. That was fun...but unfortunate. And that's another story. Here are the films of Shorts 3: The Truth in Art
A DAD: Absurdity, art, a collage of found footage, to celebrate a dad's 100th birthday. Or is that Dada's 100th birthday. Voice-to-text can get really weird, when the text is not really text. I want this film as an unplayable blu-ray sculpture!
ALICE: A Korean-American dancer with big dreams.
ART OF COURAGE: A documentary about large scale aerial artists, who make pictures and spell out messages by positioning people on the ground and taking pictures from the air. Overtly political, and when the terrorist attack in Paris happens, they have to adapt to keep their art going.
BAE: Strange. Just really fuckin' strange. But kind of awesome.
NO PLAN B: A film about a filmmaker making a pitch to make the film...that is her film. Did that make sense?
REAL ARTISTS: Highly engineered animation, perfected for your enjoyment, through the power of AI.
THANKS FOR COMING: A serious actor vents about the vapidity of the casting process, with a twist.
THE JOHN SHOW:An art show featuring nothing but portraits of one man. John Riegert. An artist, an entertainer, and a man suffering from depression. So it's not just an art show, it's a way to save his life. At least...they hope. A beautiful film from Cinequest veteran Julie Sokolow (ASPIE SEEKS LOVE, Cinequest 2015)
THE PUPPETEER: A dancer explores her Indonesian cultural roots.
THEATRELAND: Ushers in a West End theater, living so close to the dream of being on stage. Maybe a young actress will get a break.

Then I was over to Gordon Biersch for the VIP Soiree, a couple of beers and a little food, then on to one of the annual highlights of the festival, the silent film. This year the selection was FLESH AND THE DEVIL, which I had first seen just a couple of years ago at the SF Silent Film Festival. Let's see what I said back then:
FLESH AND THE DEVIL (1926): Then we saw the classic that turned Greta Garbo into a star and kicked off her romance with John Gilbert. And while Garbo is a force of nature (or maybe even supernatural) in this movie, the story is really a love story between two men--friends since childhood Leo and Ulrich (Gilbert and Lars Hanson.) They're in the service together, cover for each other, get punished together, go home on leave together. Ulrich's little sister has the hots for Leo, and hopes they'll get married someday. But his eyes fall on Felicitas (Garbo) and from that moment he's doomed. Oh sure, they have a nice little affair...until her husband comes home. This leads to a duel, which leads to Leo killing the husband, which leads to him having to leave overseas for a few years. Trusting Ulrich, he asks him to take care of Felicitas while he's gone. Well, Ulrich does more than that, he marries her! And then things get really interesting. If there's anything that can break up a long time friendship between two guys, it's a girl. And when that girl isn't just any girl but Greta Garbo at her vampiest best, then there's no hope. After all, if the devil can't get to you through the spirit, he'll get to you through the flesh.
Yup. I still agree with every word. Especially what a force of nature/supernatural Garbo is. The only thing to add is how absolutely astounding it was to hear Dennis James rocking the might, mighty Wurlitzer organ at the California Theater, with a traditional, period-accurate score. It doesn't get better than that.

Then I popped in to the Maverick Meetup at Mosaic for a little bit, before I was back for one final film.

DO NOT DISTURB was the short that played before THE NIGHT WATCHMEN, and I had arrived late and missed it before. A man checks into a rundown hotel. He has a large trunk, and the elevator is out so he has to drag it to the 7th floor. But finally he has a chance for a little rest. But the couple next door is fighting and his attempts to get a little peace and quiet take some very dark turns. Very cool.

Then back for another drink or...several...at Mosaic, and when that party broke up it was up to my suite at the Fairmont to keep the party going until...I think about 2 am? I don't remember the exact time, but there were a lot of happy Cinequesters there, and now I'm committed to seeing SECLUDED today at 2 pm.

And that's the last Friday of Cinequest 2017. Time to put on a shirt and go to the lounge and drink my breakfast.

Total Running Time: 315 minutes
My Total Minutes: 422,772

Friday, March 10, 2017

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 10

Four more films on Thursday, my final day in Redwood City. I'll be in downtown SJ all weekend.

I started off by getting there early enough for a little libation and food courtesy of Margaritas. So I was nice and relaxed for my first film.

THE NURSE, from Turkey is the story of the unlikely relationship between a revolutionary on a hunger strike and his timid, overweight nurse. If they ever reveal the revolutionary's cause, I missed it, but he has been transferred from prison to a hospital because his determination in his hunger strike is strong enough that it will kill him. While the doctor pleads with him and threatens force feeding, she's just there to take his vitals. Timid and non-threatening, she's just doing her job, and he's...okay with that. They learn a bit more about each other's personal lives. She tries to get him to let his mother see him. He tries to get her to leave her abusive husband. It's a quiet story of two people connecting, and finding something simple and true inside the complicated world around them.

Then I had a good bit of time between films, and since I had already eaten, I wandered over to CRU Wine Bar for a few glasses of red wine and to check out the pleasant location where the official Cinequest meetup would be later that night.

Then I was back for the Norwegian film, PYROMANIAC. In the small village of Finsland, Norway, there's an arsonist on the loose, or so it seems. The small fire brigade is overworked, and people are fearful. But it's not a mystery to the audience. Pretty quickly our suspicions are confirmed--it's Dag, the enthusiastic member of the fire brigade and son of the chief. So rather than a mystery, it's a drama about what motivates him, and how those closest to him will respond to the clues that eventually point to him. For all the beautifully filmed infernos, it's really a small, quiet, human drama, and very well done. Plus, of course, beautifully filmed infernos.

Then one of those blood-boiling documentaries, WHAT HAPPENED IN VEGAS. Director Ramsey Denison normally works as an editor for cop dramas. His whole worldview is that cops are the good guys who catch the bad guys. He's friends with cops. He's the furthest thing from a cop-hater. So on a mini-vacation after finishing a job, he's shocked to see some brutal police behavior outside a casino in Vegas. Thinking this is an isolated incident, he calls 911 to report it. Next thing he knows he's roughed up by the same cops and thrown in jail for three days (charge: resisting arrest.) So...he starts digging into other incidents from Las Vegas Metro Police Department. The movie mostly focuses on three murders committed by cops. But there are smaller incidents as well. And the real story is the "blue wall," the cover-ups, the character assassinations, and the corrupt, arrogant attitude from the top that anyone shot by a cop must have deserved it. The movie gives the audience some hope, too, introducing some good cops who are sick of their sheriff Doug Gillespie. Tops among them is Larry Burns, who advocates community policing to form partnerships and trust with the community. His approach led to a dramatic decrease in violent crime in what had been one of the worst neighborhoods in the city. And so he runs for sheriff. And he has community support. He has support of 96% of the police union. But he doesn't have support of the big money casinos, who prefer someone who will keep any scandals under wraps. (Okay, let me pause and note, I'm really just parroting what the movie told me. I don't know all the intricacies of Las Vegas politics, but they make a compelling case.) Well, this election was in 2014, so it's not exactly a spoiler that Burns lost narrowly to Gillespie's hand-picked successor. It is still kind of a punch in the dick, though. It offers a vision of a corrupt police department, and a vision of how to clean it up. But not a lot of hope that will happen anytime soon. (It also doesn't get into the question of how common this is across the country, but that's a much, much bigger story.)

And finally, I ended the night with PAINLESS. You'd think living without pain would be pretty cool, almost like a superhero. Well, this is a real condition and is far from a super power. In fact, as rare as the disease is, it's even rarer to see an adult with it, for the simple reason that so many don't survive past childhood. They just injure themselves because you don't learn not to touch the hot stove if it doesn't hurt. Or you don't stop running when your legs hurt and they break. Or you don't stop poking your eye and you lose it. Or you lose your tongue because biting it doesn't hurt, it just tastes deliciously salty. But that's a different story. Our hero Henry has the disease, and has survived to adulthood. He's survived by being cautious, to the point of being a shut-in. He must check his vitals regularly. He makes sure to put ice in his hot food to avoid burning his mouth. He walks carefully, avoiding putting too much stress on any part. He's also a scientist, studying his own condition trying to find a cure. And he's well studied in pain. He can watch someone and diagnose them simply from their motions, how gingerly they move in certain ways, indicating what hurts, indicating what disease they might have. A mysterious scientist offers a partnership that could greatly aid his research (the doctor, we find out, has the opposite condition, suffering from constant pain.) Turns out his regular doctor has a history with this scientist, and urges Henry to stay away. Henry is torn, but determined to finish his quest without distractions. Then a major distraction comes into the picture. Shani is a cute barista, and they meet when she spills scalding coffee on him in the subway. And for the first time in a long time, he awkwardly tries to connect with another person. A potential distraction from his life's work, but possibly an opportunity to put his life's work aside and start living his life's...life? For science nerds like me or anyone fascinated with rare conditions, there's plenty of food for thought here. But the romance--and the quest for self-acceptance--is the real heart of the movie. And it has a fascinating and sincere heart. Plus it's just beautifully shot with some great acting, especially Joey Klein as Henry, who really captures the subtle physicality of not feeling pain (paradoxically, but looking pained everywhere, all the time.)

PAINLESS has one last screening, Fri, Mar 10 1:45 PM in Redwood City. Hey, that's only in a few hours! Hop to it!

Total Running Time: 352 minutes
My Total Minutes: 422,455

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 9

Cinequest has been pretty darn generous with the press screeners this year. So that alleviates a lot of the complications of trying to see as much as possible in a split-location festival. So first off on Wednesday, on the most exclusive screen at Cinequest (my living room wall) I saw the short SUBCULTURE. A very funny short about a guy who goes to his therapist and it takes a very dark and twisted turn. Okay, it's about BDSM. But it goes even further than traditional sessions. Very funny, and featuring big baby Jed Rowen (THE GHASTLY LOVE OF JOHNNY X, Cinequest 2012, DRILLER, and ZOMBIE FARM, Holehead 2007)

SUBCULTURE plays with the feature THIS IS MEG Thu, Mar 9 6:15 PM in Santana Row and Sat, Mar 11 10:50 AM in Redwood City. So inconveniently, locations I don't plan to be at those days. But hopefully I'll also catch the feature on the most exclusive screen in Cinequest.

Then it was time for another full, rewarding day in Redwood City

The first show started with the short GLOWWORM, directed by Laina Barakat, producer of ONLY DAUGHTER, Cinequest 2013.) A beautiful little film about loss and what's important in life. Emma's grandfather passed away, and left her the family farm in New England. She goes there just to see it before paying her respects and then selling it. Which is a shame, because loyal farmhand Pedro was hoping to stay on, but it looks like he'll be out of a job. That is, unless he convinces her to stay. Nicely done.

And that was the lead-in to THE HONEST STRUGGLE. Darrell Davis was a promising young musician. He just got involved with the wrong type of people in Chicago and wen to jail--3 times, totaling over 20 years. There he converted to Islam, changed his name to Sadiq, and as he's released form jail, is moving into a re-entry home of Muslims with a determination to make the right choices and stay out of trouble. Thing is, as a 3 time offender, as a black man, and as a Muslim...it seems like he has to make 100% right choices and even then, it's hard to stay out of trouble. People hassle him. Guys from his old life contact him, try to convince him to go back to the gang life. An "honest struggle" is right, both in that it is honestly a struggle and a struggle to stay honest. A powerful personal documentary, that makes my own privileged struggles seem so easy. I've made some bad choices, but in my situation, I estimate I only need to make the right choice about...60% of the time to avoid totally fucking up my life. Sadiq has to make 100%, and that might not even be enough.

GLOWWORM and THE HONEST STRUGGLE play again Sat, Mar 11 10:30 AM in Santana Row

Then some tasty libations at another fine Redwood City establishment, this time Margaritas and back for another show.

EXILED is easily the darkest film I've seen this year at Cinequest (I know someone will point out a darker one, but my schedule is biased in terms of films with filmmakers I drink with, which tends to cut out the really dark stuff.) In World War I, shell-shocked soldiers were kept in mental hospitals. When Dr. Ulrich arrives at one in Latvia, the inmates start screaming when they see his uniform. To keep a modicum of peace, all reminders of the war must be removed. These people are in really bad shape, and live in really bad conditions. And that's before all the horrible stuff starts happening. A feral kid, an approaching, abusive unit of their own army. It all unfolds like some terrible nightmare which you can't wake up from. Very well made, but I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

That was the last screening of EXILED. Sorry, it's getting to be that time in the festival.

Then I had another leisurely break between films, so I sat down for a little vino and a little dining at Donato Enoteca with Robert E Kelly, an associate producer of GLOWWORM. Lovely man, lovely place.

Then I caught a work-in-progress screening of QUEEN ANNE'S LACE. As a work in progress, the sound definitely needs some touch-up, and I don't know how close this is to the final edit. But it's enough to tell a compelling story. Jane...needs a little bit of time away from her husband and daughter. Or at least her husband. She's a poet, and sees herself as that. He loves her, but sees her as a wife and mother, and poetry as a hobby. That's probably not the only problem they have, but in any case she needs a little break and decides to go spend some time at her aunt Jackie's house in the country. Which is all well and good, until she falls in love with someone else. That someone else is the local kayak instructor, and she's a woman. Jane had experimented with women in the past, and maybe this is her real orientation. Or maybe it's a fling, and she's just hurting her daughter. Is it selfish? Is it what she really wants? It's never quite answered. It's more about how unanswerable and painful some of these question can be. It's shot in a low-res, Dogme 95 inspired style, with an often voyeuristic eye peeking at the characters through trees or porch railings. It's kind of like the conversations are so intimate that we're kind of breaking a taboo by watching and listening in.

That was also the last screening of QUEEN ANNE'S LACE, but maybe the finished version will come back next year?

And finally, I ended the night with THE DUNNING MAN, by some of the funnest drinkers at Cinequest 2017. To "dun" is an old term for collecting a debt. Early on, our hero Connor Ryan approaches a door with loud meowing inside, and opens it to reveal a room of furries watching a guy dressed as a bear fucking a woman made up like a cat. Then we rewind a bit. Connor Ryan, after failing in New York, is back home in Atlantic City, trying to make a go of it. All he has left is a few apartments he rents out in a shitty condo complex. We will soon find out those furries are renting one of them. Except they're not paying. And they're connected to some illegal business. In his other apartments, there's a lovely single mother with an abusive on/off boyfriend and an upstairs neighbor who parties too loud (and too explicitly sexually) for her or her darling daughter to sleep. That upstairs neighbor is a rap star, working on his second album (his first was huge, so it's a little weird he's renting from such a shitty complex, but he's got his reasons.) Connor's life is kind of a hurricane, as he's just trying to collect the rent so he can pay off a few debts and maybe fix the air conditioning...but they won't pay rent until he fixes the air conditioning. So he's got to use his few connections and his fuckin' Irish stubbornness to become a hero 'n shit. A fun, wild ride. One of the funnest films I've seen this year at Cinequest. 

THE DUNNING MAN plays again Fri, Mar 10 2:20 PM

Total Running Time: 343 minutes
My Total Minutes: 422,104