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 Fl√łe 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

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 8

Four more shows on Tuesday, starting with my first two screenings at Santana Row. A beautiful theater in a trendy complex with lots of great drinking and dining. But I didn't really have time for that, I had back-to-back films and then a Lyft back to downtown for a soiree and two more back-to-back films. 

The first show was a quietly moving pair of films about relationship struggles. In the short MUSCLE, a wife whose husband is terminally ill struggles with the decision of whether to live for his final days and moments, or to live for herself, especially when sitting on the washing machine just isn't enough. Even when a good single malt scotch isn't enough. Excellent at using the quiet, unspoken moments to convey the emotions. 

Similarly, for all the talking in it, the feature WILDERNESS was at it's most powerful in the silent scenes (that might be my affinity for silent films peeking through.) John is a jazz musician, and jazz music infuses the film, and in a way so does the improvisational nature of jazz. I don't actually know if much of the film was improvised, but it's about the improvisational nature of a new-ish relationship, this time with Alice. Feeling each other out. Hoping they're "the one" but terrified that it won't work. I've written before about how a hallmark of a great Cinequest film (or great films in general) is "emotional honesty," and this film has it. In a Hollywood film, there would be a big, dramatic reason for their fight, instead of little things and the honeymoon bloom of new love just wearing off and fading against more realistic concerns. In this film, I can't put my finger on any particular reason they won't work (and not because I had too much to drink in the VIP lounge earlier.) It's just little things. Nothing that is...or should...be a deal-breaker, but little indications that they might even love each other but not be right for each other. Small things, and inadequate or unthoughtful responses that just add to the strain. And now I'm rethinking my statement about how beautiful the silent moments are. Because isn't communication the key to a relationship? Is enjoying the silent moments...part of the problem? I have to end this before I start overthinking my own relationship.

MUSCLE and WILDERNESS plays again Thu, Mar 9 7:00 PM in Redwood City

And then I stuck around Santana Row for PROM KING, 2010, which is another relationship movie with a very different style but also emotional honesty...even if the emotions are a little overblown (and that's part of the point.) Charlie is a new college student, a hopeless romantic, a movie lover (undoubtedly part of his hopeless romantic problem) and a young gay man in New York. Over his four years in college, he falls in love, gets his heart broken, commiserates with his friends, and starts all over again. Actually, it starts before college, with his high school boyfriend who was tragically...Mormon. Nothing against Mormons, they're just horrible people who ruin lives (that's a line from the movie, please no hate mail.) His friends keep assuring him that his turn at romance will come. And it does. And then it goes. And then it comes again, in kind of a parody of Hollywood romantic cliches. But it's sweet, and heartbreaking. I cheer for him every time he meets a new love, and I'm heartbroken for him every time it doesn't work. He such a like-able, relate-able character that I really felt for him. And, just for the record, for whatever it's worth, I am straight. This movie is just so good that anyone who has the capacity for empathy will empathize with Charlie. Or, anyone who has been lied to by Hollywood and finds reality isn't at all like Hollywood romance. 

Also, for the record, Grace Kelly and Clark Gable only ever appeared in one movie together. I've never seen it, but considering that she plays a cheating wife, I suspect it's not a great example of a romance you should hope for in real life.

PROM KING, 2010 plays again:
Wed, Mar 8 9:30 PM at the Hammer Theatre
Sun, Mar 12 6:20 PM in Redwood City

Then back to downtown for time for just one drink at the soiree in SP2, then dashing off to the Hammer Theatre for YOU ARE MY SUNDAY. Hey, let's keep the love train moving! Arjun is a really nice guy. He's also the de facto leader of a group of friends who play football (i.e., soccer, for us Americans) every Sunday. But Arjun is such a nice guy that when they bump into a senile old man, he brings him along, at least to keep him safe. But he joins in, and causes an incident that forces the beach to ban sports, so now they have no place to play. He also takes the man home, where he meets her lovely and overworked daughter Kavya. This will become the main romance of the film, but having their Sundays free allows everyone in the group to...well, either make some positive changes in their lives or have a total nervous breakdown. It's a very funny film, with a lot of like-able characters, and a view of Mumbai, India as a complicated, urban environment where tradition and modernity makes everything...just so complicated. Also, there's like, no room for anything, especially a football match. But there's just enough room for a little romance.

YOU ARE MY SUNDAY plays again;
Sun, Mar 12 6:20 PM at the Hammer Theatre
Fri, Mar 10 7:10 PM in Redwood City

So...what happens after one love movie, then another love movie, then a third love movie...? A family movie! (Or 2, a short and a feature.) 

ORANGE LIPSTICK is the story of a working mother. Two kids, high-stress job, and a husband who only calls her to ask her to pick up milk on the way home. She needs a night off. And she gets it, in the form of new lipstick and a wild night out with some young people who see that she needs a wild night out. Just enough of a recharge to love her family again.

I do have to mention that a technical glitch resulted in ORANGE LIPSTICK being played twice. Once with a really bad flicker, and once looking gorgeous, but with a kind of exasperated audience. These things happen, and I want to thank the excellent projection team at all the Cinequest venues. This isn't easy, playing a different film ever couple of hours with different technical specs, especially when there's a short and then a feature with different specs. Cinequest has been largely glitch-free this year. And re-playing a 15 minute short is nothing. Listen, I could tell you of the time (at a different film festival) when a 35 mm film was plattered and fed through two projectors in back-to-back theaters and near the end they discovered the last reel was attached backwards. That's a projectionist's nightmare, maybe even more so than the dreaded burn-through. (Or, in the days of digital projection, "bricking" the projector.)

Anyway, then it was on to the feature, FOR GRACE. Ben is a successful businessman with a lovely wife. And the birth of his first daughter (the Grace of the title) has stirred some old questions in him. See, he always knew he was adopted, but never knew his birth parents. So he talks to his wife, he talks to his adoptive parents, and he goes on a search for his real mother. And he invites a documentary crew along with him. And...there's a surprise I'm not going to spoil. Unless you look below to the end of this post. Anyway, he discovers the convent where he was born. He learns his mother was 13 years old at the time. He learns she left right away, but came back 2 years later, pregnant again. And she died in childbirth, but his brother (or at least half-brother) survives! So he goes on a journey to meet Peter, his brother, who happens to be deaf. And there's...a striking resemblance. So they have to know, are they full brothers or half-brothers? (Especially if deafness could run in the family, what could it mean for little Grace?) More surprises are in store, as this tender story unfolds about how the family you make is just as important, if not more so, than the one you inherit by blood.

Wed, Mar 8 4:45 PM in Redwood City
Wed, Mar 8 4:45 PM at Santana Row
Sun, Mar 12 10:50 AM in Redwood City

Total Running Time: 404 minutes (wow, with that and dashing around between venues, no wonder I had no time to eat. Thank you to the greatest CQ volunteer ever for keeping me fed--you know who you are!)
My Total Minutes: 421,761

p.s.: Okay, that surprise. Highlight to read: FOR GRACE is not really a documentary. It's a fake, and if you're at all smart about reading the festival guide you would see it's listed as "Drama" not as "Documentary." But I was fooled for about half the film. Then I started thinking 'this is awfully staged for a documentary.' And then I was relieved at the end to learn it was a fake all along. Well done guys! and I want others to have the chance to see it like I did.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 7

Because scheduling kept me from making it to Santana Row Sunday night, I started the day early by viewing my press Screener of NEW CHEFS ON THE BLOCK. Not the best way to see a film, but with a home projector and Chromecast it was a bit better than watching on my laptop screen.

Most new restaurants fail. 30% fail before opening the doors. All restaurants put a huge strain on the lives and relationships of the owners and chefs (and especially chef/owners.) This film follows two chefs as they embark on this risky endeavor. Aaron Silverman opens Rose's Luxury, which serves fresh cuisine in an informal settings (much to the chagrin of those who think they're important and want to cut the line, they don't take reservations.) Frank Linn is following in his family business, opening his own pizza shop, Frankly Pizza. They both go through great pains to get the restaurant right. To get the food right, of course, but also all the difficult business part. Most importantly, getting good, reliable help. No-show, no-call, no more job. Which seems harsh, but the most important part of good hiring is good firing. And...well, it seems silly to hold back a spoiler because you can easily Google whether Rose's Luxury and Frankly Pizza are still in business. And while the film doesn't belabor the point, one key to success is good, loyal employees who actually enjoy working there and want to stay, contrary to the high turnover typical in the industry. Remember, the customer is not always right. And good business isn't all about taking care of the customers. Take care of the employees and they'll do a good job (or fire them if they don't, I guess.)

NEW CHEFS ON THE BLOCK plays again:
Tue, Mar 7 4:00 PM in Redwood City
Tue, Mar 7 4:00 PM at the Hammer Theatre

Then I headed over to Redwood City just in time to...realize I forgot my wallet and wouldn't be able to park there, so I turned around, drove back to Fremont, and back to Redwood City just in time to miss the opening short but catch the opening credits of THE NIGHT WATCHMEN. Rocker turned security guard has a hard time on his first day. The guys haze him. The boss is a creepy perve. And a mistaken delivery leaves them watching over a coffin with the body of a beloved clown in it. Oh yeah, that clown died in Romania...the land of vampires. So crazy shit happens, it's bloody, it's campy, it's hilarious. It's the Cinequest return of Mitch Altieri (half of the Butcher Brothers, from THE HAMILTONS in 2006 and A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO SNUFF from...just last year!) Great way to start the day.

THE NIGHT WATCHMEN plays again
Fri, Mar 10 10:00 PM at the California Theatre
Sat, Mar 11 9:45 PM in Redwood City

Then I headed over to The Spaghetti Factory right around the corner for a quick drink before the next film.

First up was the short SHOW BUSINESS. Comedian Clark Duke takes us through the fictional but all-too-realistic world of a moderately successful actor. His career, his friends, his...girl he likes hanging out with but is not necessarily his girlfriend unless they decide yes, they are a couple... Very funny.

Then the feature, THE TWINNING REACTION. Now here's a weird, weird story. In the 1960s a study on nurture vs. nature was launched. The plan--when twins are put up for adoption, separate them, give them to different families, and monitor their progress. Do they take up different interests, or are there some things that are just in their DNA? Problem is, this was in the time before "informed consent" and neither the babies (of course) nor their adoptive parents were told of the study. Decades later, some of the now adults go looking for their birth families, and find the truth. Or stranger yet, one pair happens to attend the same college, one year apart. Even weirder...they aren't twins...they're two out of three triplets. At first the story is kind of an oddity, and despite the ethical problems of how it started, things seem to be...happy, when the twins are reunited. They've always felt like something is missing in their life, and when they meet, it seems like that's solved. In a way, I envied them. Doesn't everyone feel something's missing? And wouldn't it be convenient if the answer was "long lost twin?" But it turns far more complicated. Even with happy, comfortable lives these kids all grew up with emotional issues. At least two subjects committed suicide. No papers were ever published from the study, and the details are locked away at least for now. But if I were to hazard a guess, the first finding is that separating twins at birth...really fucks them up.

Even stranger, my friend I watched this with, turned to me at the end of the film and confessed that he was adopted (I knew that, actually) and might have a twin...back in Russia. So good luck finding those records.

THE TWINNING REACTION plays again:
Tue, Mar 7 6:15 PM in Santana Row
Wed, Mar 8 7:30 PM in Redwood City

Then over to Blacksmith for another drink. Have I mentioned how many great restaurants and bars are in Redwood City. It's actually a really cool place to hang out for a day, as long as everyone knows where to meet.

Then I caught a pretty crowded screening of INDIA IN A DAY. The ultimate crowd-sourced film, on October 10, 2015, in a cooperative project with Google, millions of Indians filmed their day. Director Richie Mehta (AMAL, Cinequest 2008, also CAAMFest back when it was called SFIAAFF) put it all together, with the help of Ridley Scott's production company, and create a sort of cinematic tone-poem of a day in India. Waking up, washing, breakfast, going to school, going to work, from the bustling cities to the quiet rural areas. India's a country of over a billion people, so it's impossible to describe it in such a short time. You get some distinctly Indian flavor, but more important is the universality of human life everywhere. Really made me want to visit India.

That was the last screening of INDIA IN A DAY...sorry.

Then in an alternate universe I saw what I was originally scheduled to see--Shorts 3 - Truth in Art. And through the power of press screeners, I will see them, I promise. But in the meantime, here are...a couple of them. Including one from a returning filmmaker.
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!
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)

Shorts 3 plays again one more time, Fri, Mar 10 1:45 PM at the Hammer Theatre. Hopefully I'll catch it and see anything I missed.

But in this universe, I saw a different show, starting with the short THE QUARE IN THERE. From the South African term for queer, the term is explored and used to explore black and queer activists in Oakland. Their lives, and their stories. Very moving.

And then the feature SEAT IN SHADOW. Albert is an old painter, and a strange sort of psychologist ("strange psychologists" is another theme of the festival.) His friend asks him to counsel her grandson Ben. Ben is gay, and Ben has boyfriend problems and depression (maybe triggered by his boyfriend problems.) Their interactions are shot with a sumptuous, queer beauty. And then I fell asleep. Don't know if it was just too late, or just too much to drink, but I couldn't keep my eyes open. And I wasn't the only one. When I woke up at the end credits, the only other person left in the theater had also fallen asleep. Oh, well.

SEAT IN SHADOW plays again:
Wed, Mar 8 3:30 PM in Santana Row
Thu, Mar 9 8:45 PM in Santana Row
Sat, Mar 11 1:45 PM at the Hammer Theatre

Total Running Time: 338 minutes (only counting what I saw in theatres)
My Total Minutes: 421,357

Monday, March 6, 2017

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 6

Another full night of partying last Saturday, then a full day of films on Sunday, as my favorite drinking-festival-with-a-movie-problem marches on. First up...was a lot of morning drinking in the VIP lounge. A little breakfast, a little mimosa, a Bloody Mary, a couple of beers. Because I was explicitly told by the makes of  WILD MAN that I should drink before seeing their film (oh yeah, and I snuck a flask of whiskey in.)

WILD MAN is a very funny but heartfelt movie about a drunk loser living off former glory and never really growing up. Bo is a former high school football star and currently barely successful actor. He doesn't get the big parts, or even the small-ish parts. He's got one commercial for Bulldog Insurance, and he basically lives off his catchphrase, "I don't got a dog in that fight." But his contract even prevents him from taking other commercial work. So with a stalled career he heads back to Tennessee for his high school reunion to relive his glory days...and to get laid. Instead he gets shit-faced drunk, gets pulled over for DUI, and pisses on the cop. Oh, and the dashcam video of his arrest goes viral. So he's under house arrest...living with his sister...kinda. Actually, he's living in his niece's pink princess fantasy house in the backyard. Lead actor Ted Welch is perfect as the wretched slob with a (barely detectable) heart of gold, and does a great job humiliating himself through the whole film. He meets Elliot, the kid across the street (whose mother happens to be an old flame of his) and teaches the tubby, picked-on kid how to play football. Maybe if Elliot makes the team Bo can turn his life around. Or at least get with his mom. Funny and light-hearted with a semi-serious message about growing up. How hard it is to do as a kid, and how much harder it is to do as an adult. I can relate.

WILD MAN plays again:
Tue, Mar 7 6:15 PM in Redwood City
Fri, Mar 10 5:00 PM in Redwood City

Next up was FIXED, a comedy about vasectomy that is totally nuts. The funniest thing at the festival so far, I totally had a ball with this film. Allan is a father of three, and no matter how much he loves his kids, they're still a pain in his...lifestyle. He loves his wife, too, but they just don't have time for sex anymore. And when they do...she's not on the pill anymore. The hormones were doing bad things to her. And so...the conversation starts. Should he get a vasectomy? Of course, this makes him a bit testy. Men just always associate vasectomy with castration, even though there's a vast difference between them. So he's got his friends teasing him, even though one has already been snipped. They play a little like the angel and devil on his shoulders. Plus, as if that's not enough, his Jeep is falling apart and so maybe it's time to get...a minivan. His crisis leads to some pretty hilarious adventures, especially when he goes on a "rumspringa" from fatherhood and can indulge in his fantasies one last time (no spoilers, but the different idea of fantasies of a middle-aged father are pretty hilarious.) The jokes come at you rapid fire, so even though I was laughing pretty much the whole time, I'm sure there are some jokes that I missed. Maybe I'll just have to see it again. It's a potent comedy that couldn't possibly be improved by cutting anything out.

FIXED plays again:
Tue, Mar 7 9:15 PM in Redwood City
Fri, Mar 10 2:00 PM in Redwood City

Then back to the lounge for a few more drinks, and back to the California Theatre for ACTORS ANONYMOUS. It's based on a book by James Franco, and features Franco as a successful and conceited actor. But it's mostly about Sean and Ben, two different struggling actors. Sean (Scott Haze) has had bad problems with drugs in the past, but is now sober with the help of his sponsor, played by Eric Roberts. Ben (Jake Robbins) is a recent transplant from South Dakota, where he got the acting bug in a school play--while also taking some liberties with Shakespeare's script because he was in love lust with Juliet. Yeah, his romantic problems will be...more problematic as the film goes on. Obsessions escalate, and personal demons resurface, causing bad decisions and worse decisions. Because it's James Franco, there's always this uneasy tension on whether it's all fiction, whether it's based on something true, or whether it's purely fiction that Franco wants you to believe is true. In any case, it's a very...unappealing portrayal of the life of an actor. But it's a very well done, compelling, unappealing portrayal of the life of an actor.

ACTORS ANONYMOUS plays again:
Tue, Mar 7 8:30 PM at Santana Row
Fri, Mar 10 7:00 PM in Redwood City
Sun, Mar 12 6:15 PM in Redwood City

The screenings were running a little late. So I didn't make it to Santana Row for NEW CHEFS ON THE BLOCK. I apologize to them, and I will find a way to see it later in the festival.

I did stop by for the final moments of the VIP Soiree at Chacho's and Deluxe. And then I did something I rarely do at Cinequest--or any film fest. I skipped a time slot to go get a proper, sit down, not rushed dinner (at a great pizza place called Pieology, but I don't think it's on the CQ Dining Circle, so let's keep that a secret.)

And then I ended the night back at the Cal for SWEET GIRLS, a semi-dark comedy from Switzerland. Elodie and Marie are two teenage girls with no jobs and no prospects. Not even a place to live. And all because those stupid old people refuse to die or move away or otherwise give up their nice, affordable apartments (well, especially affordable if the old folks' pension checks are auto-paying the rent.) So they hatch a plan. It isn't entirely evil. Just a way to relocate the senior citizens. No need to spoil their machinations, but suffice it to say their plot is successful, somewhat. The senior citizens are quarantined underground, and the teenagers get to take over topside, and rule based on their naive world views. But the seniors find a community they've been missing, and the teenagers find how shitty they really are at running a community. Very funny, although it dragged on a bit. A great idea, mostly well executed, and just needs some editing for pacing. I wouldn't quite call it a "90 minute short" like so many independent films. But at 100 minutes...and the last film of an exhausting day...it was just a little bit too much.

SWEET GIRLS plays again:
Wed, Mar 8 8:30 PM at Santana Row
Sat, Mar 11 7:00 PM in Redwood City
Sun, Mar 12 10:45 AM in Redwood City

Total Running Time: 368 minutes
My Total Minutes: 421,019

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 5

Saturday was a pretty intense day, starting with a little free breakfast in the VIP lounge, courtesy of Whole Foods Market. Just one beer with breakfast (I was pacing myself) and then off to the California Theatre.

The first show started with the short MAY 15TH IN PARIS. A beautifully shot, somewhat experimental take on French history and current politics, juxtaposing May 15th, 2016 with May 15th, 1848.

That was the lead-in to FORGOTTEN MAN, a story of class divisions in London, revolving around a theater company for homeless actors. Appearances can be deceiving, as we see in the beginning when an audience member comments that he expected the actors to look "more homeless." Carl (Obi Abili) doesn't necessarily look homeless, especially when dressed in the nice suit from his play. He wasn't exactly looking to fool Meredith (Eleanor McLoughlin,) just show her around some of the spots he likes in town. But he isn't forthcoming when a little romance blooms. She's wealthy, in town for a family gathering, and they hit if off well. But he has to keep his life secret from her, while dealing with the violent temper of his buddy in the theater. And it all comes to a head when Meredith invites him to a play...the very play he wrote and is starring in. Very cool.

FORGOTTEN MAN plays again:
Sun, Mar 5 9:00 PM in Redwood City
Thu, Mar 9 1:30 PM in Santana Row
Sat, Mar 11 9:00 PM in Redwood City

Then back to the lounge for a couple of drinks, and back to the Cal for another show, starting with the short YOU. A clever, very short film about love addiction that gets the story across with very few words.

That was the lead-in to the Norwegian film, ALL THE BEAUTY (ALT DET VAKRE) which is also about love, and sex, and does so in a great many words. David is a famous writer, dying of cancer, who asks his ex-lover Sarah for help in finishing his play. Thing is, their mullti-decade love affair was not always kind, especially as David exploited their sex life for material for his very graphic, very scandalous writing. And his new play...well, it's re-examining all of that, and tearing open old wounds. We see the characters through four sets of actors at various ages from 24 to 51 years old. We see her going from a medical student to a respected doctor, while he goes from a promising writer, to a sensation, to kind of a jerk whose entire career has been based on exploiting his lover. Not that she wasn't a willing participant. It was kind of her idea to have an open relationship and tell him about her other lovers. It makes for a fascinating premise, and it's well executed. It did kind of drag on, though. It's an example of something I see all the time at film fests--what I call "the 90 minute short." Films that have an idea that could be explored in a 20-30 minute short film, but are expanded out to feature length.

ALL THE BEAUTY plays again:
Sun, Mar 5 4:00 PM at Santana Row
Thu, Mar 9 6:45 PM in Redwood City
Fri, Mar 10 9:15 PM in Redwood City

Then another quick drink in the lounge, and back for film 3, starting with the short TIME TO LOVE. A little bit of a romantic mindbender, as a jealous man knocks on his girlfriend's door at midnight trying to catch her with another man, but finds something far more surprising.

And then the feature, PRODIGY. In keeping with a multi-year theme of Cinequest, the black-and-white films tend to be my favorites. Inspirations for this film range from THE TWILIGHT ZONE to SILENCE OF THE LAMBS to a little bit of 12 ANGRY MEN and more (oh, even X-MEN, I guess.) Dr. Fonda (Richard Neil,) a psychologist specializing in troubled children is approached by an old friend who needs help on a case. They have a very special, very troubled, very dangerous little girl. This isn't a typical case, the child is kept locked up in a military base, in a strait jacket, under heavy security. That little girl is Ellie (Savannah Liles) and she's a genius, evolved beyond mere humans, and living in pure logic without the constraints of primitive emotions. She also has...powers. Powers that are better left unspoiled, but safe to say there's a reason there's so much heavy security around her. As Dr. Fonda learns more about Ellie, and about the military's plans for her, it becomes a race against the clock to find a way through her mental walls and find the little girl inside so that he can save...well, everyone. A wonderful, thrilling, smart film.

PRODIGY plays again:
Sun, Mar 5 11:00 AM in Redwood City (that's like, really soon! Go there...now!)
Wed, Mar 8 9:30 PM in Redwood City
Fri, Mar 10 10:00 PM in Redwood City

Then a little bit of Soiree time at the Fairmont, and then over to the Hammer Theatre for LOVESICK. One of the hallmarks of a Cinequest film, in my opinion, is emotional honesty. It's interesting to compare this film to any superficially familiar Hollywood romantic fantasy. Dash (Jacob Tierney) is a 30-something artist in Winnipeg who has recently lost his longtime girlfriend Lauren (Jessica Pare) to a total douchebag (Jay Baruchel.) And so he's a pathetic mess who can't take care of himself and constantly disappoints all his friends. In the Hollywood version of this, he'd meet a beautiful girl and learn to get over his ex and love again. And he does meet a very beautiful girl, Nora Van Denbrock (Ali Tataryn) and...well, there's something clicking there. But actually...he's still hung up, and just because he meets someone new, or goes to therapy, or has friends who care about him...if you're fucked in the head none of these external forces are going to fix you and make everything okay. A very smart, real, and also very funny movie about love and heartbreak.

LOVESICK plays again:
Sun, Mar 5 1:15 PM in Redwood City
Fri, Mar 10 2:15 PM at Santana Row
Sat, Mar 11 9:45 PM at the California Theatre

And finally, the last film of the night was QUALITY PROBLEMS. A true family affair, married directing duo Brooke and Doug Purdy also star as a married couple and cast their own children Max and scout as their son, Max, and daughter, Scout. They're a crazy little family that yells, fights, teases, and totally loves each other. They've got a grandfather losing his mind to Alzheimer's, and mom's breast cancer has returned (in reality, Brooke is cancer free since 2008, but a lot of this was based on real events.) What was I saying earlier about Cinequest films and "emotional honesty." This film is overflowing with emotional honesty. But also hilarious family moments, insanity, bar fights, ruined cakes, dancing in your underwear, and the best birthday party ever. I loved it.

QUALITY PROBLEMS plays again:
Sun, Mar 5 6:30 PM in Redwood City
Fri, Mar 10 9:30 PM in the Hammer Theatre
Sat, Mar 11 3:45 PM at Santana Row
Sun, Mar 12 10:40 AM in Redwood City

Then I passed by the Farmer's Union right as the Maverick Meetup was closing down, but continues on to SP2 where the team from LOVESICK was keeping the party going until a little past 1:00. Then back to my party suite at the Fairmont for some unofficial after-after hours partying. A small, select group of die-hards stayed up until sometime around 3:00-3:30, before finally crashing. I promise, the after-party suite will happen again next weekend, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, after the official Cinequest partying is over. Because I never want this party to end.

[Update: I forgot the most important part of my blog!]
Total Running Time: 476 minutes
My Total Minutes: 420,651

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 4

Friday kicks off a big weekend, and the start of my vacation. For the next week I'm not working my regular job, I'm a full-time Cinequester!

We started with...drinking! A couple of beers in the festival lounge, then off to the Soiree at Mosaic. More Stella Artois, a little vodka, and a tasting of Glenfiddich, so I was nice and toasted for my first film of the day.

THE SOUNDING is the story of Liv, and how she chooses to live. She doesn't speak, and she lives on an island with her grandfather. He was a successful neurologist, and has called his colleague and former student Michael to come take care of her. He comes to learn that his former mentor is dying, and the reason he brought Michael there was so he could take care of Liv when he passes away. Michael also comes to realize that she can speak, she just chooses not to. And when she does, she speaks exclusively in Shakespeare quotes. So Michael, despite his mentor's explicit wishes, decides to have her committed to a psychiatric institution. And that's when she starts to get really feisty. Unfortunately, that's also when all the booze started catching up with me, so I'm a little hazy on this bit. But her rebellion plays out entirely in the words of Shakespeare, and revolves around the question of whether she's really insane or just a strong-willed maverick. At times it plays like an exercise in whether Shakespeare really does encompass all of life--can you have any and all conversations solely through Shakespeare quotes? But the strong vision and acting keep it grounded in the human drama rather than literary theory. And the end result is pretty powerful.

THE SOUNDING plays again:
Sun, Mar 5 4:15 PM at the Hammer Theatre
Tue, Mar 7 9:10 PM in Redwood City
Fri, Mar 10 2:15 PM in Redwood City

And then I caught Shorts 7 - Comedy Favorites. Hooray for funny shorts!
NO OTHER WAY TO SAY IT: A voice actor tries to nail just the right tone for an ice cream ad, while also getting disturbing texts from her mom. With some autocorrect mischief thrown in.
POINT AND SHOOT: A couple of would-be criminals get a little lesson, from Donald Sutherland.
RUSSIAN ROULETTE: Not actually Chatroulette, but using a similar website a lonely London girl meets a lot of strange and unappealing men. And then a Russian cosmonaut, chatting from space. But space is boring, he wants to see her tits.
SHOUT AT THE GROUND: A rock band in New Zealand. Driving, yelling, examining the heist that cost them their entire pay for the weekend. Also puking. Lots and lots of puking.
THE CALL OF CHARLIE: One of my favorites from Holehead last year. Don't you hate it when you set up a date between your two friends (one of whom is a tentacle-faced monster) and some other friends stop by unannounced and ruin everything?
THE CARD SHARK: The game is 5 card draw. The players are a little boy and...his goldfish.
THE ELEVEN O'CLOCK: A psychiatrist tries to treat a patient with a very difficult disorder--he thinks he's a psychiatrist. Hilarious hijinx ensue, as the audience is left to wonder who's the real shrink.
THE GAMES WE PLAY: A night of drinking with friends. And a new relationship is put in jeopardy by a silly "what if?" game. Just for the record, if given the chance I would travel the universe with aliens rather than stay here. I'd miss my friends, but...traveling the universe with aliens!
WHO'S WHO IN MYCOLOGY: A hilariously bizarre Czech film. A girl who is passed out drunk. The trombone player who takes her home. Her home full of mold samples and books on famous mycologists (scientists who study fungi.) And a bottle of wine and a tricky corkscrew. At one point, everything gets upside down.

Shorts 7 plays again:
Sun, Mar 5 3:50 PM in Redwood City
Mon, Mar 6 4:30 PM in Redwood City
Thu, Mar 9 8:30 PM in Redwood City