Monday, May 7, 2007

Jason goes to SFIFF day 10

By the way, I haven't had time to watch the online Scoop du Jour, but I've heard rumors that there's some footage of me from the festival. If you go to, and click on "watch scoop du jour clips", I know there's at least footage of me drinking (not my first) beer in the Stella Artois lounge the first Friday night (I believe that's in the Monday, 30 April clip).

So I got home are 3:30 am Friday night/Saturday morning. Then I dragged myself out of bed nice and early just to get up to the Kabuki theater by 10 am for a special 70th anniversary screening of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", because why the heck not?

Okay, I'm going to assume you've all seen the Disney classic and first ever (American) animated feature film. Some things I'd forgotten: how often the dwarfs say "Jiminy Cricket!" three years before "Pinocchio". How little sense it made for the queen to turn into an ugly hag in order to kill Snow White, when her ultimate goal was to be the fairest in the land (perhaps that's the moral there). And most importantly, it opens and closes with a storybook. Okay, the ending is just "...and they lived happily ever after." But the beginning is a couple of pages with no voiceover summary or anything. It's not hard to read, but it's surprising to realize that 70 years ago they expected the audience--even an audience of children--to be smart enough to read without being annoyed. Along the same lines, it's odd nowadays to see a kid's movie that isn't full of creepy double-entendres to keep the parents amused. They didn't pander to anyone back then, they just made a great movie. Cool.

So then I had a good hour long break, and then began a marathon of movies with barely minutes in between. First up was "The Key of G" with the short (25 minute) film "Outsider: The Life and Art of Judith Scott". First the short, a fascinating look at the elaborate fiber art sculpture of Judith Scott, a deaf woman with down syndrome who can't communicate in any other way (and her sculptures, while extraordinary, are pretty mysterious as to their meaning). She livery with her (completely healthy) twin sister Joyce, who brought her to the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland. There she tried to paint and draw a little, but really came to life with fiber art (elaborate sculptures made of yarn), and has since had her art exhibited all over the world. Here's a pic of director Betsy Bayha (right) during the Q&A.

Then the feature film was "The Key of G", a documentary about Gannet Hosa-Betonte, a 22-year old man who is afflicted with a condition in which the two sides of his brain don't communicate normally. So while his vision, hearing, etc. are all fine, his brain never learned to process visual information correctly. At 22, he's finally moving out of his mom's house to an apartment just down the street where he'll live with a team of caregivers (some of the most amazing people I've ever seen, all of whom are also artists of some sort). His condition is fascinating, but the movie doesn't really delve into the science of it. It's really about the connections between Gannet and his caregivers/roommates/friends, and on that level it's fantastically moving. One interesting thing, Gannet was in the audience and although he can't speak he will laugh and exclaim at times. He was doing that on screen and in the audience, so it was sort of a bonus experience. Here's director Robert Arnold with some of his crew and Gannet's friends at the Q&A:

I also snapped a picture of Gannet but a) it didn't really come out well, and b) in retrospect, it seems like it'd sort of be in bad taste to post it.

Then I walked right out of the theater and into the one next door for "Singapore Dreaming". A charming little tale of a middle class family trying to be something better. Specifically, the father Loh Poh Huat daydreams of moving out of public housing and into a beautiful new condo. His hopes are pinned on his son, returning from America with a degree from a not-too-prestigious polytechnic university in Idaho. Problem is, he's still a loser and can't get an IT job because...he doesn't know anything about IT. He also has a pregnant daughter married to a hapless insurance salesman who'd rather be a rock star. Suddenly, their dreams all come true with the father wins the lottery. But then it becomes a "be careful what you wish for" story. Well acted and very funny. In the Q&A, co-directors (and co-everythings) Colin Goh and Yen Yen Woo (pictured below, with SFIFF associate programmer Sean Uyehara) talked about how they intended to a make a very specifically Singaporean movie, but found out in taking it to festivals that they had accidentally made a very universal movie.

So then I ran upstairs to see "Eagle vs. Shark". This is actually going to be released very soon, I've seen trailers for it at Landmark Theaters, but it fit well into my schedule and looked like fun. Afterwards, I heard the perfect description for this movie--Napoleon Dynamite grown up, and meets Mrs. Napoleon Dynamite. There's only one problem with that description. I didn't actually like "Napoleon Dynamite" (gasp!) I know, this puts me not only in a distinct minority, but also puts me in the group with old fogeys who 'just don't get it'. I don't mean to get off on a tangent, but let me explain. "Napoleon Dynamite" is not as sympathetic to it's title character as it thinks it is. Or, if it's sympathetic, either things have changed in the past 15 years or it's completely and insultingly unrealistic. I was that nerd in high school that everyone picked on, and I'm certain that dancing at an assembly wouldn't win me any friends. Bottom line is, in real life (or at least real life ~15 years ago), nobody votes for Pedro! And what really bugged me is that it mocked its main character(s) for the entire movie, then slapped on a redemption that was completely bogus. It just bugged the hell out of me.

Okay, now back to "Eagle vs. Shark". I actually loved this movie. It gets not just what made "Napoleon Dynamite" work, but more importantly what didn't work--and it fixes that. It's from New Zealand (source of a couple of great movies at this years festival) and is the nerds-in-love story of Lily and Jarrod. Lily has a crush on Jarrod, who pretends to be cool but is really a total loser (except when it comes to the video game "Fight Man", which Lily is also quite good at). She goes to his party, ends up sleeping with him, then gets her brother to give him a ride back to his hometown so he can beat up the bully who picked on him in school (who's just returning home). Needles to say, wacky hijinx ensue. But here's the big difference between this and "Napoleon Dynamite". Instead of the loser secretly having great skills, he remains a nerd and a loser, but as Lily says, "it doesn't matter". To put it another way, "Napoleon Dynamite" never felt to me like it was made by nerds. It felt like it was made by bullies who had grown up and felt guilty and so made a movie to assuage their guilt (this probably isn't actually true, but that's what it felt like). "Eagle vs. Shark" felt like it was really made by and for nerds.

So then I skipped out during the credits to see the Centerpiece presentation of "Delirious". I was too late to get my kick-ass front row center seat, so I had to settle for front row off-center, right where the director and star spoke before and after the movie. Here's a picture of director Tom DiCillo and star Alison Lohman, who played pop star K'Harma Leeds:

The movie is really a vehicle for Steve Buscemi to shine as paparazzo (excuse me, "licensed professional") Les Galantine. Michael Pitt is also fantastic as Toby Grace, an aspiring actor, currently homeless, and obsessed with K'Harma Leeds. Les takes him on as an unpaid assistant, giving him a roof over his head (and a closet to sleep in), and more importantly getting him into parties with celebrities. For the most part Les keeps Toby under his thumb, and Toby is kind of awkward and makes a lot of mistakes, but eventually comes into his own, both in the photojournalism business and in the celebrity business, as he accidentally becomes a desperate K'Harma's boytoy at a party (which really pisses Les off, because he didn't get to tag along). Wacky hijinx most definitely ensue. Hilarious, but still in a way very real, and manages to be very sympathetic towards some very shallow characters. It straddles the line between satire and drama very well. Certainly it's satire, but it's satire that works because the characters desires, no matter how shallow or despicable, are still very real.

Then I actually had enough time for a few fee beers (thank you Stella Artois) before the late show screening of "Signal", an excellently trippy and gory film about a mysterious TV signal that makes everyone paranoid and violent ( Fox News?). Okay, that was a cheap shot, it's really more like "Videodrome" than anything, but certainly has some sharp satire of mass media culture and passive entertainment (says the man who has seen 200+ movies in under half a year). A few things really impressed me. First, the idea was very clever. Second, the gore and violence was well done and palpable. Third, it was shot in three segment, each by a different director. What's notable about that is it's actually pretty hard to tell. They have a remarkably identical look in each segment (perhaps the same DP for all?). Anyway, I was mightily impressed.

In fact, I have to say I've been impressed with the late show selection for the past couple of years. I believe ever since Rod Armstrong took over, the late show selections have been the best ever, so kudos to him for that. But I do have one little bone to pick. What's up with starting a "late show" at 10 pm? Hell, it's a midnight movie that ends before midnight! More importantly, I don't care if the late show starts at midnight or 11:30 or even 10 pm. What bugs me is that other movies are still playing (or have just started) when the late show starts. The late show should be a no-brainer for me. Of course I'm going to see it, not just because it's the genre I like, but because nothing's playing opposite it! And that hasn't been the case the past couple of years. So please, I'm begging you to move the midnight movies back to midnight.

Luckily, I had just enough time to jog over to the Clay Theater for a real midnight movie, and got in free thanks to the good people at Indiefest. So I saw "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension". I'm going to go ahead and assume you've all seen it, it's a classic cult movie. I know you love the quotable lines ("Laugh it up, monkey boy!" or "Why is there a watermelon there?"/"I'll tell you later") and the feeling like you're watching a sequel to a movie you've never seen. Okay, maybe some of you love it, and some of you don't, and some of you haven't seen it, but who cares. One final point, like "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", it also opens with text for you to read with no voiceover. So there, it all came full circle today, and it's all about movies that treat you with some sort of intelligence.

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