Monday, July 30, 2007

Jason goes to Jewfest--Monday, July 30

I know it's been a while since I've posted. It's been a while since I've seen a movie. I've been in Alaska to see my darling little sister get married. You can see amateur photographs (courtesy of my big brother) of me in a tuxedo and me scaring small children here.

Anyway, I just got back and went to the SF Jewish Film Festival (henceforth called "Jewfest") in Berkeley. Two movies last Monday, here they are:

First up was "Orthodox Stance". Jewfest is doing a whole series on Jewish boxers this year. Turns out from ~1900-1930 there were something like 27 or 28 Jewish world champion boxers in various weight classes. In fact, in the early 20th century, Jews were the #1 ethnic group in boxing. Who knew? Well, this documentary is about a contemporary Jewish boxer, Dmitriy Salita. Born in Odessa, his parents immigrated to Brooklyn when he was a child. He took up boxing when he was twelve, and won amateur titles in New York. But when the world amateur tournament in Budapest refused to accommodate his demand to not box on the Sabbath, he decided to go pro, and started delivering whuppings--but not until after sundown on Saturdays. In the movie he proves to be an engaging and charismatic subject, as are his boxing trainers and rabbis. In fact, some of the greatest moments are ringside shots of old boxing veterans cheering alongside orthodox rabbis and other assorted Jews (and one sign proclaiming Dmitriy to be the "Greatest Jewish fighter since Samson"). I didn't bother looking up his record before the movie, so although they're all in the past, I didn't know if he won or lost, and the documentary format creates a real sense of anticipation and worry during the fights--it's not like a narrative film where you know the good guy will win, it's a slave to reality. I liked that, although it'd be very easy to look up his record and now how he's going to do in advance. The director was in attendance, but I stayed for the second movie rather than seeing his Q&A. Unfortunately, Dmitriy couldn't be here for this screening because he's back in New York training for another fight (he was there for the San Francisco showing last week).

The second movie was a documentary more in keeping with the stereotype of Jews. "The Chosen Ones" is about young Jewish musicians in New York (mostly, it branches out to Germany and Israel late in the movie). Okay, Jews and musical ability is a pretty common stereotype, but these are a little different. These are the young, out there, orthodox but edgy music. There's a black convert who raps in Hebrew , a rabbi who plays humorous non-PC folk rock (he's my favorite), and others like Blue Fringe and Balkan Beat Box. Director Wendla Nolle is a German Christian woman, so she's often an outsider in the scene (in orthodox communities, it's illegal for a man to hear a woman other than his wife sing, hence no female musicians made it into the movie). However she is a musician, and made this movie to explore the relation between music and spirituality (which is why she chose orthodox Jews instead of any Jewish musician). In that respect, I can't say she was entirely successful. Perhaps because I'm not all that spiritual (or all that musical), but I think also because in the search for more non-stereotypical musicians, they tend to come off as a series of novelty acts. They're still all deeply religious, and incorporate religion into their music, but their stories are more often about resolving apparent conflicts between their spirituality and their choice of musical styles. In any case, I will grant that the visuals are very well done. Wendla Nolle has a great eye for composing shots, and the music is often very entertaining.

And that was Monday, I saw two more movies Tuesday, including a wacky slapstick comedy about Hitler. And I'll be seeing two more tonight. More posts to follow soon.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Jason goes to the Hypnodrome and sees Live Acts and Dead Channels

The first in a four-part series of "happenings" at the Hypnodrome, to advertise for Dead Channels (post coming soon about how to see everything there) and to showcase the graduates of their "Creepshow Camp". It started with a few funny skits, a little travelogue terror (who knew Delaware was so scary?), a little Jack Chick's "Tiny Shoes", and a little medical history/brain in a jar fun with "The Revelations of Jean Vadim:The Oracle of the Cephalic Vivarium". This is an excerpt of a longer play they did as part of "Hypnodrome Head Trips", which starts with notorious Lothario Jean Vadim in prison, proceeds to the guillotine, on to the head in a jar (a revenge by the doctor who's wife he seduced), where through electrical feedback he still manages to still be a womanizer. That's one talented guy. Well, this excerpt just fills in the part between him getting his head cut off and the vengeful doctor keeping his head alive to put in the Cephalic Vivarium, and intersperses it with both the back story of Jean Vadim and the history of medical transplants/transfusions (including a vampire pope). Pretty cool. Then there was some lights out spooky scary stuff, although due to a technical error with a DVD projector, they didn't achieve total darkness. Overall, it was fun, but it's their first show in the series and there's some technical kinks to work out.

And then there was the movie portion of the night, some rare, fun trailers and excerpts from Cosmic Hex and Dead Channels, a 10 minute reel of midget wrestling (there's a little person theme of the night), and finally the feature presentation of the classic all-midget musical western, "Terror of Tiny Town". Yup, cowboy midgets riding around on ponies and shooting each other. Brilliant, except for one detail. If the town is completely populated by midgets, apparently founded by midgets, why did they build all the building regular size? There's never a regular size person coming through town, so why not build everything small?'s just an hour-long midget joke? I'd love to see this remade today, just to see if anyone can get away with making and releasing a feature length midget joke.

Anyway, as I said it's the first of 4 "happenings". They'll have another one each of the next three Wednesdays. I'll probably be back for the last one, just before the Dead Channels festival starts. Next week I'll be out of town in Anchorage, AK, and the week after I'll be at the Jewish Film Festival. Which reminds me, that starts tonight at the Castro Theater, check it out. I'll miss opening night and the whole San Francisco part of the festival, but I'll catch most everything in Berkeley and/or Palo Alto when I get back from Alaska.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Jason celebrates the return of the San Jose Earthquakes!

So I was going to write about the panel discussion I attended last night about horror movies. Interesting panel, but didn't really tell me anything new about horror. Mostly it was just fun watching knowledgable horror fans geek out (the most fun was when people disagreed about specific movies, but those arguments were defused pretty quickly).

But on the way home I learned that my beloved San Jose Earthquakes are coming back in 2008. Woo Hoo! A more official announcement is expected later today, and they'll probably talk about it during the MLS all-star game tomorrow. BTW, if any Quakes fans haven't heard, join us at the Brittania Arms downtown for the MLS all-star viewing party, put a deposit on 2008 season tickets, and get a free t-shirt.

Okay, that's all.

Oh yeah, and go to the Hypnodrome for "Live Acts and Dead Channels" tonight, July 18.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Jason previews upcoming events--Dead Channels

Those who read the last post carefully will notice that I said there were a couple of film festivals coming up that I'm excited about, and then I went on to only talk about the SF Jewish Film Festival. The other upcoming event, right after Jewfest, is Dead Channels, the San Francisco Festival of Fantastic Film. Their schedule just came out, here.

Dead Channels is the brain child of Bruce Fletcher, former programmer of Indiefest and Another Hole in the Head festivals. I've enjoyed his programming over the years, so I'm very excited to see what happens when he has full, unfettered control and is programming only horror/fantasy/sci-fi films. Plus, he's the guy who programmed Indiefest so it's possible--but not easy--to see everything. I assume he's done the same for Dead Channels. More info on that soon, including my planned schedule.

A couple of extra news bits. Dead Channels are teaming up with the Thrillpeddlers before, during, and after the festival. Although I don't see it on either website yet, starting next Wednesday, July 18th, and every Wednesday leading up to the festival they'll be showing "Live Acts and Dead Channels" at the Hypnodrome. Earlier I reviewed Hypnodrome Head Trips and bemoaned the fact that I saw it near the end of their run and therefore didn't have a lot of time to tell everyone to see it. Well, they're reprising the longest of the plays from that show, "The Revelations of Jean Vadim: The Oracle of the Cephalic Vivarium", and showing a different cult film every night, as follows:
July 18th: Terror of Tiny Town
July 25th: Witchcraft Through the Ages
August 1st: White Zombie
August 8th: Creation of the Humanoids

Plus during the festival they're hosting two nights:
August 13th will be "Spookshow Salute!" featuring Dick Newton, an original spookshow cast member of "Dr. Ogre Banshee's Chasm of Spasms" ('47) and "Den of Living Nightmares" ('48), followed by a screening of the Boris Karloff film, "The Sorcerers".

August 15th will be "Thrilpeddlers Flashback" featuring a reprise of another "Hypnodrome Head Trips" play, "The Empress of Colma" with some psychadelic shorts of some sort. This is a fundraiser for their trip to Burning Man. Awesome, I hope I see you guys there!

And finally, they're hosting a post-festival "Rock n Roll Wrap Party" on August 17th, with glam rock and a screening of the Brian De Palma classic re-working of the more classic "Phantom of the Opera", "Phantom of the Paradise".

And, of course, the festival features gobs and gobs of films. I know a bit about some of them, but for now I just want to mention one of them--the opening night gala presentation of "Postal" by Uwe Boll--the crapmeister behind "House of the Dead", "Alone in the Dark", and "Bloodrayne" has allegedly made a great pitch black politically incorrect comedy, and he'll be there for the screening. I've heard this from multiple sources now, so I'm holding out hope. We'll see. But more importantly, you have to understand the history behind this. You see, back in 2003, before anyone knew who he was, he came to Indiefest to present his high school shooting drama "Heart of America: Homeroom" and the World Premiere of the uncensored director's cut of "House of the Dead", and I was there to see it. Now I know this was a) cut down from the version I saw, and b) went on to be one of the most universally reviled films ever. Now I didn't know b) would happen when I saw it, but in that spirit I reach waaaay back into my archives to find out what I wrote back then. I'm afraid to look:
Then I went to the world premiere of "House of the Dead", based on the Sega video game of the same name. This was directed by Uwe Boll, who also did "Heart of America: Homeroom", and I think it's wonderful that he can do a thoughtful, political movie like "Heart of America" and follow it up with a brainless shoot-em-up zombie movie. "House of the Dead" is very close to a deal for distribution (if they haven't signed by now), and I'm sure when it's released, it'll be savaged by the critics. I don't think it's entirely unfair, it is a pretty brainless movie, with little plot and even less character development. But I believe video game movies should be held to a different standard (that is, if you accept the dubious prospect that they should be made at all). You don't make a video game movies for the plot or character development, you make video game movies to recreate the fun of playing the video game in live action. "House of the Dead", the video game was about zombies jumping out of everywhere and you shoot at them. "House of the Dead", the movie, had zombies jumping out everywhere, and the heroes had to shoot them. Perfect. One thing I'll note, like "Hell's Highway" [author's note: think the original "The Hills Have Eyes" with raver kids], the heroes were a bunch of raver kids (this time the zombies attack the rave, instead of them getting lost on the way home). The ravers in "Hell's Highway" were a lot more convincing. "House of the Dead" had raver "kids" who looked more like young adults on their way to a cocktail party. Oh, one other thing of note, Uwe Boll used a lot of the same actors in both movies, including Jurgen ("Das Boot") Prochnow and Clint (brother of Ron) Howard. Clint Howard (along with Uwe and a lot of the cast was at the Q&A session afterwards), and he was pretty funny.
So, that gives you an idea of my compulsion to find something nice to say about any movie, and hence I've now lost all credibility as a critic. So what, I've never claimed to be a real critic. But if you want to see me really lay into a crappy film, remind me to dig up my review of "Bettie Page: Dark Angel".

See you at Dead Channels!

Jason previews upcoming events--SF Jewish Film Festival

So my regular readers might notice there's been a slight downturn of activity here. Basically we're in the summer blockbuster doldrums. Yeah, I still watch some blockbusters, if I'm interested, but typically in the summer I fall off to 1-2 movies a week. And now I have to remind myself that 1-2 movies a weekend is still a lot to most people, just not to me.

Anyway, these summer doldrums are a combination of a number of things: A bit of fatigue, a bit of 'not much watchable in theaters', a bit of 'better things to do while the weather is nice', and a whole lot of 'not many big festivals that really interest me'. You see, the major film festivals (at least for me) in the area are mostly loaded into the front of the year, with Indiefest, Cinequest, and Asianfest all nearly back-to-back-to-back, then a little breather and SF International. There still are some in the summer. Holehead of course, which I attended. There's also Frameline, the LGBT festival, which I skipped this year because it was right after Holehead and I was exhausted (literally, Frameline's opening night was Holehead's closing night), but I've seen some movies there before. There are also the silent film fests, both in the Niles district of my hometown of Fremont (where Charlie Chaplin had a studio way back when) and this upcoming weekend in San Francisco. But I missed the first and looks like I'll be busy this weekend (possibly I'll see the Sunday program, but I'll be busy Friday and Saturday).

Well, the point is there are a couple of upcoming events that I'll attend and I'm excited about. And the first one is the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, starting a week from tomorrow. This is the oldest Jewish film festival in the world, celebrating its 27th year. The nice thing for me personally is that I'm actually kind of in the demographic for this festival. I'm Jewish, or half-Jewish (dad's Jewish, so technically I'm not really Jewish at all since it's a matrilineal culture), or not religiously Jewish but dig that part of my heritage. It's pretty clear at the Asian American Festival that I'm not really Asian, I just enjoy their movies--and I should emphasize that everyone's really friendly about it. At Frameline, I've occasionally had to explain that I'm not actually gay, but when you're desperate any film festival will do (and again, they're very friendly about it, too). But here I'll get to jew out with my tribe, and that's cool.

I'll actually be out of town for the first week, so I'll miss most of the San Francisco shows (I might come to opening night, unless the film plays again at a more convenient time for me), but I'll be back for most of the Berkeley and/or Palo Alto section of the festival. I haven't worked out my entire schedule or bought tickets, but I'll probably be spending most of the time in Berkeley at the Rhoda Theater.

There is one film I'm very specifically looking forward to. A few years ago, Dani Levy got the film world talking by making "Alles Auf Zucker!" ("Go For Zucker!"), the first post WWII German Jewish comedy to win best picture at the German Film Awards (their equivalent of the Oscars). That ended up opening the SF Jewish Film Festival a couple years ago (where he claimed that Germans don't have a sense of humor of their own, they have a Jewish sense of humor, hence it was natural for him to make a Jewish comedy in Germany). His follow-up sounds way more outrageous, "My Fuehrer: The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler", a wacky slapstick comedy about the final days of Hitler, and from the moment over a year ago when I heard he was making this, I was dying to see it. Can't wait, I'm planning on seeing the July 31 show in Berkeley.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Jason watches "Black Sheep" and "You Kill Me"

Yesterday was the day for dark comedy, starting with "Black Sheep". I'd actually seen this previously as a midnight movie at the SF International Film Festival. At the time I said:
Gore, comedy, and sheep from the first country I think of for all three--New Zealand. Director Jonathan King owes a debt to Peter Jackson--not just for paving the way with "Bad Taste" and "Braindead", but for creating WETA Workshop which did the monster sheep effects. A story of monster zombie sheep, created by...ahem.. "unconventional" breeding methods. The half-sheep, half-human hybrids run amok, and wacky hijinx ensue. There's also some good fun poked at stupid organic farming hippies. Awesome!
Well, this time I saw it sober (midnight movies as SFIFF come with free all-you-can-drink Stella Artois). I'll still stand by that review, but I'll add a few things. First, there is a plot that holds up pretty well--mostly a brother vs. brother story, with one of the brothers deathly afraid of sheep due to trauma in his childhood brought on by the evil brother. Second, the "unconventional" methods are as much about genetic manipulation as they are about sheep-shagging. And Third, there's also joke about ovine flatulence. It's still awesome!

Then I saw "You Kill Me", the dark and very deadpan crime thriller/comedy by John Dahl ("Red Rock West", "The Last Seduction"). Ben Kingsley plays an alcoholic hitman working for the Polish mob in Buffalo. When he gets drunk and passes out while on stakeout to kill the head of the Irish competition (Dennis Farina), the Polish boss (Philip Baker Hall) sends him away to get cleaned up. Specifically he sends him to San Francisco under the watchful eye of a mob friend and local real estate agent (Bill Pullman, who's gained quite a bit of weight recently. I didn't recognize him at first). Once there, he joins AA, is sponsored by Luke Wilson, and starts dating Téa Leoni (who's always good at staring in disbelief). The comedy comes from the fact that Ben Kingsley has no qualms about being a hitman, he's just worried that drinking has got in the way of doing his job. And he's very upfront, in some wonderful deadpan confessions first to Luke Wilson and then to all of AA. The scene where he's going through the list of people he's wronged--not people he's killed, but people he's killed badly and hence made suffer more than necessary--is worth the price of admission alone. The crime drama/thriller aspect comes from Dennis Farina moving in first on Philip Baker Hall's turf, then on his life. And so Ben Kingsley has to come back to Buffalo to do his job, take revenge, and save what remains of the Polish mob. It's an odd mix, and won't appeal to everyone. But if you're looking for something different that works on nearly level, has an amazing cast, and comes from an always-interesting director (Dahl's rumored to have signed on for "Punisher 2", which could make that watchable), this is a fine movie.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Jason watches Michael Bay's "Transformers"

And I say it that way because it damn sure isn't my Transformers.

Okay, I'm afraid this review is going to have to be mostly explanation and context. First off, I'm not a knee-jerk Michael Bay hater. I liked "Bad Boys". "The Rock" is possibly in my top 10 favorite action movies. I...actually missed "The Island". But whatever, I'll even defend "Armageddon" as the natural evolution of big eye-candy explosion movies. The point is you, I, he, and all of Hollywood know what he's good at and what he's bad at. Haters just want him to make different movies. Whatever. I'm not defending Michael Bay as a genius, or even an artist, I'm just saying that he knows how to make the kind of movie he likes, and I can respect him for sticking to his comically over-sized guns.

With that said, I shuddered when I heard he was making "Transformers". You see, as much as it might seem that my childhood is still alive and well, in 1986 it was at least grievously wounded, because "Transformers: the Movie" came out and freakin' killed Optimus Prime! And that forced me to grow up and put away my toys (sometimes). Sure, I kept watching the new series where they were in space and had crazy robots that transformed into nothing even close to a recognizable vehicle, but my heart wasn't in it that much. And I certainly didn't follow it much later into "Transformers: Beast Wars". So what I'm saying is, I'm a classic Transformers guy. Optimus Prime is my leader, not Rodimus Prime or whoever they have now. And as such, Bumblebee is a Beetle, not a Camaro; Optimus Prime does not have lips, and Megatron transforms into a gun, not some sort of futuristic jet (And yeah, I know there were always scale problems with the size of him as a robot and the size of him as a gun. There are also scaling problems with a car transforming into a robot that's taller than a house). And I really hate to be the guy who gets hung up on those details. I didn't mind it when Spiderman's webbing was organic instead of his invention. I didn't mind the absorbing man being the Hulk's father. I didn't mind Superman having a son with Lois Lane (although there was plenty more to mind about that movie). But this is just an indication of how much Transformers meant to my childhood that I still carry these hang-ups around 20 years later. In fact, pretty much none of the Destructicons looked right--all too pointy. I guess that's supposed to look scary, but I just kept thinking all those pieces would break off way too easily.

And for that matter, Optimus Prime with flames painted on the sides--what the hell? In retrospect at least, what I really loved about Optimus Prime is that the semi truck is an icon of good old hard-working blue-collar American values. I wonder how much of my respect for the mythical blue-collar American work ethic comes from Optimus Prime. But if you paint flames on the side and it becomes the symbol of a poser--a truck driver pretending to be racecar driver. And that's just wrong--Optimus Prime is no poser. In fact, in retrospect his lack of lips in the cartoon gave him a wonderful sense of stoicism (that and Peter Cullen's voice, who thankfully reprises his role).

And a third point. For me, the Transformers were toys first and a cartoon show second. Looking back, the cartoons were actually pretty cheesy. Although I do still like to use the line "Autobots, transform and roll out!" on occasion--and they got that wrong in the movie, he just said "Autobots, roll out!" The point is, I'm kind of a geek, and I liked playing with the toys just to figure out how they put something together that will actually transform from a robot into whatever. They were actually for the most part very clever toys. In the cartoon, the transformations were pretty silly, they'd hover in mid-air and parts would swing around and they'd make the iconic sound and then they were transformed. So I was looking forward to seeing how they'd bring the best special effects technology to the transformations. And the new answer's way too complicated. Instead of a dozen moving parts, these guys have thousands. Sure, it looks cool the first time, but pretty quickly it becomes overwhelming. Bumblebee the toy was just about as simple as you can get, but in the movie it's still a thousand moves to transform him. Just once, I'd like to see a transformation that's strictly according to the Hasbro toys, because the guys who designed those toys were pretty damn smart.

Oh yeah, and along the lines of the toys, pretty much none of the Decepticons looked right--all were too pointy. I guess that's supposed to look scary and less human/more monstrous, but I just kept thinking all those pieces would break off way too easily.

Okay, so that's enough context. I think you can understand the parts that bugged me that really say more about me than about the movie. So how does it actually work as a movie? It works exactly like a Michael Bay movie, for better or worse. Things blow up real good. There are big transforming robots running around and fighting. There are some half-clever gags (the "Armageddon" reference, the "more than meets the eye" line, etc.). There's a couple political bits that I smiled at--you don't see the President's face, but you see his socks and hear a George W. Bush impersonator ask for ho-hos. The humans are basically there to watch the robots fight, only Shia LeBouf is given enough to do to really even be called a character, and it's a matter of personal taste whether you find him sympathetic or just annoying--I thought he was okay. The plot is the thinnest of McGuffins--we have to get the blahblahblah before the Descepticons do because it has the power to yadda yadda yadda...and that would be bad! And the moral that all sentient life deserves a chance and there's more than meets the eye with everyone is at best, blandly inoffensive.

So in the end, it was 2.5 hours of silly dumb near-fun that kinda stomped on my childhood a little. But hell, I survived the Go-Bots, I'll be fine with this.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Jason comments on the AFI's new list of 100 greatest American movies

So back in 1998, the American Film Institute compiled a list of the 100 greatest American films, culminating in "Citizen Kane". A couple of weeks ago, they announced a new list, reflecting the evolving cultural perspective (and of course, new films made since the last list). A nice summary of the old and new list can be found on Wikipedia. I have just a few comments:

There were 23 new films on the list, but only 4 from the newly eligible (post-1998) movies. 4 seems about right, it can be hard to tell right away if a film will stand the test of time. And in that spirit, I predict "The Sixth Sense" will be the first to be dropped from subsequent lists. Sadly, "Titanic" won't be dropped until something beats it's box office total.

Well, that leaves 19 films that were eligible in 1998 and didn't make the list, but beat out previous winners to make the list this year. Okay, changing cultural preferences, right? For example, I can totally understand, for example, "Dances With Wolves" dropping from the list. What was great at the time now strikes me as cloying and simplistic. I believe that film genuinely has dropped in our cultural status (in no small part due to the dropping popularity of Kevin Costner, which started immediately after "Dances With Wolves" when he made "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves"). And I can understand adding "Toy Story", I don't think in 1998 we really understood how much computer animation and Pixar in particular would take over the animated film world. Not that I always like it, I think it's marginalized hand-drawn animation. I chose to boycott "Over the Hedge" because it's a charming comic strip that could've been a charming cartoon but just looked wrong in CGI.

But I digress. What I really wanted to explore was whether the new list really reflect changing cultural values, or is the majority of the turnover just the wacky variability of such lists? And all I had to do was look at the highest ranked new addition to the list. Coming in at #18 is Buster Keaton's 1927 masterpiece, "The General". I don't disagree that it belongs on the list, in fact I'm boggled that it wasn't on the 1998 list. Rumor has it that it was poorly received on release, but it's reputation was restored decades ago. So I'm left to wonder what the hell happened in the last 10 years to make "The General" go from not even on the list to in the top 20? Is there really something new we learned about it? Have a new generation of filmmakers started using it for inspiration (granted, every train-top chase scene owes it a little debt, but that was just as true 10 years ago)? So, I need go no further. This list is nothing but high profile cinephilic wankery (not that there's anything wrong with that). They could vote on a new list every week, and it'd have just as much turnover.

That's all. It doesn't bug me, it just reminds me how ridiculous it is to compare art.

Jason watches "Tebby Assassin"

Hey everybody, my soon-to-be brother-in-law (and "soon" means less than a month now) made a short stop-motion movie about a stuffed animal eco-avenger named "Tebby Assassin". You can see it here (link updated, Quicktime still required). It's obviously a first effort, but he's asked for constructive criticism, so here goes:

First, I like the idea, both of an eco-warrior and graphic violence with teddy bears. And with practice or help it could be something pretty cool. And Tebby and Moose Avenger look suitably crude and cute. Now on to the criticism.
  1. The opening narration is too long. For about a minute (about a third of your movie) you have nothing but a picture of the earth and your voice. Figure out how to say what you want to say faster, or find a different way to say it.
  2. When the stop-motion starts, it's pretty crude and amateur. But really, you could make the aesthetic work for you. I don't know if you're old enough to remember those film strips in school where the soundtrack beeped and you had to manually advance to the next frame, so you were really watching a series of photographs instead of a film. Well, it's about half-way between that and professional stop-motion. And the more I think about it, I'd laugh more if it were a filmstrip, because it'd make me imagine a teacher having to show this to her class.
  3. Get some friends to help do a few voices. Maybe I'm too close to the source so I know what it sounds like when you're making funny voices. But especially when the two jerks in the car are talking, I had trouble distinguishing which was which.
  4. When Tebby stabs them, is that supposed to be blood or shit coming out? If you're saying they're full of shit, cool, but make it more obvious. Tebby or someone could yell "Ooh, shit! That stinks!" or something. If it's just supposed to be blood, make it redder. But please tell me it's supposed to be shit.
  5. You introduce a villain at the end who wasn't in the rest of the movie and does nothing. Fine idea for a villain, but put him earlier in the movie and make him do something, or save him for the beginning of episode 2.
Okay, I think those are concrete and constructive points. I hope that helps.

Oh, and by the way, I don't want anyone else to get the idea that you can get free publicity here just by marrying my sister. Besides, I only have one eligible sister left.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Jason watches "Live Free or Die Hard"

And it's okay.

To let you know where I'm coming from, I loved the original "Die Hard", it's a classic not just of the action genre but of movies in general--at least as much as an 80's action movie can be. There are really two things that made the original work--the claustrophobia and Bruce Willis. Specifically, Bruce Willis doing all his own stunts. Then the sequels have gotten increasingly ludicrous and have thrown out the excellent claustrophobia element altogether. First he was in an airport, then all over New York, and now all over the eastern seaboard. I predict the next movie will be "Die Hard in Space". But, all in all Bruce Willis still does a fine job (although the stunts have gotten way too ridiculous too) and a cool, familiar character in an otherwise pretty standard action flick works. I wouldn't say this is a great successor to "Die Hard" but it's a fine follow-up to "Die Hard 2" and "Die Hard With a Vengeance".

Jason watches "Sicko"

So of course, I had high hopes for Michael Moore documentary which even Fox News raves about. And it delivers not just a damning indictment of what's wrong with our health care system and who's to blame, but also--if not quite a solution--hope. He finally comes across as the angry, disappointed optimist I remember from "Roger and Me" and his TV shows (which, by the way, was during the Clinton administration. Hmmm...maybe he's not just a knee-jerk Democrat tool?) instead of the bitter rabble-rouser in "Fahrenheit 9/11" (which was still a great movie, he just stopped being likable).

I could go on with the specifics of the movie, or my opinions of the health care system (being in the medical device field, I know a bit about how insurance reimbursements control everything in every step of the industry), but really you should just watch the movie yourself.

But there is one thing I want to say. I hear all the time that Michael Moore isn't a filmmaker, he's just a propagandist. Well, the numerous times I've sat in a dark room and watched flickering lights with synchronized sound compiled by Mr. Moore proves he's a filmmaker. And the fact that whatever he says nearly 50% of the population will immediately disagree proves he's not a very good propagandist. Seriously, Michael Moore could say, 'The sky is blue' and there would be people accusing him of an extremist left-wing anti-night, anti-clouds bias. I really hope that this time people watch the movie and take the message instead of just attacking the man.

Jason watches "The Rape of Europa", "La Vie En Rose", and "Paprika"

Yesterday was my day of catching up on movies I specifically skipped during the SF International Film Festival because I knew they'd be coming out in general release eventually. It was also a day to hang out in one of my favorite theaters--the Camera 12 in San Jose. A 12 screen multiplex that plays a mix of Hollywood blockbusters and independent movies (their 7 screen theater at the Pruneyard in Campbell does the same, and often plays more indie films). What I really like about them (and I assume this is intentional) is that unlike all other multiplexes, they actually schedule their movies so that it's easy to see multiple movies. Most multiplexes will try to time it so movies start a half hour before the neighboring screens let out, so you can't hop from movie to movie. Or at the very least, you have to hunt to find movies that are well timed to hop. But at the Cameras movies are well timed so that when you get out of one, there are several movies about to start. I appreciate it so much that I don't hop--I buy tickets for every movie. Outside of film festivals (and they host Cinequest, and have from the beginning), it's my favorite place to spend all day at the movies.

Okay, so on to the actual movies. First up was the documentary "The Rape of Europa", yet another WWII documentary. But the odd twist here is that it looks at the Nazi regime and the destruction of WWII from the point of view of the great works of art that were lost, stolen, or destroyed. It's a little unsettling, at first, to watch a documentary about Nazis that doesn't say much about the millions and millions who were murdered. But looking at Hitler's and Goering's obsession with art--collecting masterpieces, destroying "objectionable" art, or returning works by Germans to the fatherland--shows them as not just homicidal maniacs, but ludicrous, ridiculous wannabe-sophisticates. Many no the story of how Hitler was an aspiring painter, but rejected from art school and so went on to try to take over the world. As a result, he bore an incredible grudge against modern art (and the Jewish teachers at the school that rejected him). To his final days, he was still planning his grand museum in his hometown of Linz, to showcase good German art. Art collecting became such a required passion for Nazis that during the holocaust, if you were targeted and owned a great work of art, it could buy your life. When the US entered the war, on orders from FDR they brought a handful of art experts--the Monument Men--to discover, protect, and catalogue works of art as best as they could. There's more in this movie--such as the continuing search for lost masterpieces, ongoing legal battles to settle who's the rightful owner of certain pieces, etc. The film is replete with archival footage and meticulous research (based on the book by Lynn Nicholas), sometimes to the point of exhaustion. I'm sure an art major could get a lot more out of this movie, but they still keep it on a level where novices can at least grasp the importance.

Next up was "La Vie En Rose", the sprawling (2 hours, 20 minutes) epic biopic of the life of Edith Piaf, the great french singer. Well, I can sum it up in much less time than that. She had a hard life, which she made up for by living hard. Then she died kinda young (just before her 48th birthday). The movie jumps around a lot in time, but is anchored by a terrific performance by Marion Cotillard and some great music. The movie, and her story, was kind of fascinating, but not really 140 minutes fascinating. I didn't know much about her going in, and I knew considerably more coming out, but like they say in the movie, Americans don't just get her. I feel like this would be a treat for people who are already fans of her, but doesn't bring very much to people who aren't (or who don't know her). I was left with the feeling that yes, she had a very hard life and her music both reflected that and rescued her from it. But there was just a taste of the music, not enough for me to 'get' her. I'm left with the lesson that I should be a fan, or else I'm uncultured. And maybe if I do listen to more of her music and become a fan, the movie will have accomplished its mission. But hell, she sings in French, and I don't have time to learn French! As an aside, being a cinephile and one who seeks out the strange, for me the song "La Vie En Rose" still reminds me of the dark French romantic comedy "Love Me if You Dare".

And finally, there was the anime mind-fuck dreamscape "Paprika" (not to be confused with the 1991 Tinto Brass erotic movie of the same name, or it's 1995 Joe D'amato sequel/remake, "Anal Paprika". Okay, I'm getting off topic). No, this is the Satoshi Kon anime epic that nearly indescribable. But I'll take a crack at it--it's beautiful, exciting, and utterly surreal. There's a machine that lets you enter other people's dreams, and you never know if what you're seeing is real or a dream. An evil master is trying to take over everyone's dreams, and the researchers who invented the machine must stop him (with the help of a detective). There's also a heavy thread of movie references and cinephilia. It's a movie about movies, and about making dreams real. Which is what movies--especially movies like this--are all about.