Monday, August 20, 2007

Jason is huge in Japan?

So I like to keep tabs on where my visitors are coming from. And suddenly today, I get tons of visitors from Japan. Looking in to it, they're coming from this site. Not that I know what it says, but it appears to be critical of Michael Bay's "Transformers" movie, which I totally approve of (although I think Jon had the better critical review in my comments). To see what I think this site says, click here. Any Japanese speakers out there want to clarify this?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Jason watches "The Simpsons Movie"

Because after all this festival fare, I wanted to relax with something easy that I knew would make me laugh. And it did. And it tempted me to move back to Alaska. There's no better place to run from your problems.

Okay, now there probably won't be new posts for a couple of weeks. I'm traveling on business all next week and then as soon as I get back I'm leaving for Burning Man. So even if I do see movies, I probably won't have a chance to post.

Jason goes to Dead Channels--closing night

All right, three final films, and then a bonus after party the next night. Here we go:

First up was a 1972 nihilistic dystopian future drama "Z.P.G." aka "Zero Population Growth". In the future the world is so polluted that people can only go outside with gas masks. The world is also so overpopulated that the world governments agree to set a 30 year ban on childbirth. Women pregnant at the time are allowed to register and give birth, but no new pregnancies are allowed (at least, they aren't allowed to continue). People who want babies can buy robotic children and trade them in for more grown-up models as they age (problem is, everyone just wants to keep the infant versions). Anyone found with a baby is summarily executed, and the first person to rat them out gets extra ration cards. Russ and Carol accidentally conceive, and she keeps it secret as long as she can. Once Russ finds out, she convinces him to let her have the baby, and they'll raise it in secret, with the help of their sympathetic neighbors. That is, until their neighbors' jealousy causes them to turn on each other. Although some sets and props are somewhat dated (and some aren't, I love the idea of streets so thick with smog you can't see your hand in front of your face, they must have spent a fortune of fog machines), the ideas still work well today--the desperation of a babyless world, a dystopian future controlled by an oppressive government, a mad dash to freedom, etc. work so well today that they were made into one of my favorite films of this last year, "Children of Men".

Then there was a funny/scary horror master anthology "Trapped Ashes", a nod to anthology films such as "Creepshow" that celebrate the good ol' fun of making people scream, squirm, and laugh. Joe Dante ("Gremlins", "The Howling") directs the wrap-around segments, with the always excellent Henry Gibson as a tour guide on a movie set who traps his guests in an old haunted house set and forces them to all tell their most embarrassing stories. And these are some guests with some fucked up stories. Ken Russell ("Altered States") directs the demonic breast-implant story that everyone else was afraid to touch. Sean S. Cunningham ("Friday the 13th") presents a story of an American couple in Japan where the wife has an erotic encounter with a demon. Monte Hellman ("Two Lane Blacktop") directs the straightest dramatic story of the bunch, about a talented young filmmaker named Stanley and the succubus who shaped his life. And finally John Gaeta, the Oscar winning visual effects supervisor on the "Matrix" movies makes his directorial debut with the story of a woman who shares a psychic bond with her fraternal twin--a tapeworm. A sick, beautiful, cheesy, twisted, sexy movie that had me asking myself at one point, 'would it be rude to jump up on stage and start rubbing up against the screen?' (Answer: I was too chicken to find out).

And the final movie was a New Zealand comic stuntman gem, "The Devil Dared Me To". Created by Chris Stapp and Matt Heath, and based on a character they created for a UK Channel 4 show called "Balls of Steel" (it's apparently a mix of sketch comedy with real stunts a la "Jackass"). Randy Campbell (Stapp) is New Zealand's greatest stuntman, and this is the story of his origins. Coming from a long line of stuntmen, he grew up on New Zealand's South Island (aka, the shit island) dreaming of the greatest stunt--to jump the 15 miles of Cook Strait and land on the North Island. He becomes part of daredevil great Dick Johansonson's (Heath) Timaru Hellridres, but is never allowed to do any stunts. Instead he cleans the port-a-potties while washed up Johansonson bangs groupies between mediocre failed stunts. He finally gets his break filling in for an injured driver, and his career takes off. He also meets the love of his life, beautiful one-legged Tracy "Tragedy" Jones. Of course, wacky hijinx ensue all over the place, involving beer, stunts, and gross-out humor. I loved it, and I've already ordered the first season of "Balls of Steel" from

And that was the end of the festival.


But wait, there's more! Friday night there was a kick-ass after party at the Hypnodrome, the last of the "Live Acts and Dead Channels". A rock and roll theme, they presents Jack Chick's out-of-print warning about rock music--even Christian rock, in "The Angels". There was one last sing-along to "Bohemian Rhapsody" on the player piano, as well as a sing-along of "Happy Birthday" to Everett. And the final touch, a Brian De Palma's glam-rock adaptation of "Phantom of the Opera" (and "Faust"), "Phantom of the Paradise", complete with drunken fans talking too loud at too many points (sorry about that, but I wasn't the only one).

Then off to the secret after hours club, where I had a bit more to drink, passed out (more from exhaustion than alcohol), napped a couple of hours, then caught a ride home with a friend.

And that was Dead Channels. I can never come up with just one favorite of a festival, but here are my tops:

"The Devil Dared Me To", "Disquiet", "The District", "End of the Line", "Gamera the Brave", "Happy Birthday Wanda June", "Jupiter Love", "The Living and the Dead", "Postal", "The Secret Life of Sarah Sheldon", "Spider Baby", "Trail of the Screaming Forehead", Trapped Ashes", "Z.P.G"

If I had to narrow that list down, first just on contemporary, new movies:
"The District", "Disquiet", "End of the Line", "The Living and the Dead". I could also give honorable mention to "The Secret Life of Sarah Sheldon", but the projection was so dark I don't think I saw it all. Once I have a chance to watch the DVD, I'll see if I like it even more.

And for the classic revivals, I'll end with a plea for someone to release "Happy Birthday Wanda June" and/or "Z.P.G." on DVD. Better yet, someone should revive "Wanda June" on stage where it originated.

Jason goes to Dead Channels--day 7

Sorry I'm really late on these posts. I've sorta left all my loyal readers in limbo since Wednesday. I've been very busy, both with movies and work. I have about 4 hours until I leave for Cleveland on business, then I get back just in time to turn around and go to Burning Man. So after I catch up on Dead Channels, this blog might be pretty quiet for a couple of weeks. Anyway, enough about me, on to the movies.

First up Wednesday was "Nuit Noire", Belgian surrealist eye-candy (and Belgians know good candy). I can honestly say this movie is beautiful enough that I loved it despite the fact that I have no fucking clue what's going on. The hero is an entomologist, his psychiatrists jams a metal funnel into his head to look at his dreams, which are acted out by puppets. And, of course, the whole movie is a dream (or nightmare). Stunning visuals, and a befuddling collage of symbols about bugs, family, and racism.

Next up was another befuddling, frustrating movie, "The 4th Dimension". I don't know where I heard it was a time-travel movie (it's not in the guide, but afterwards I discovered I wasn't the only person who expected a time travel). It's not a time travel movie, it's a mind travel movie. Jack was a precocious little boy, prone to trying to explain Einstein's theories to his grade school class. Now he's a loner who works repairing antique clocks. In one clock (which the original owners want back), he discovers Einstein's secret manuscript describing his unfinished Unified Field Theory. Then really weird events happen, but my problem is that his understanding of multi-dimensional curved space-time hasn't really progressed from his frustratingly naive grade-school days. I'm sure if I watched it again in a different frame of mind (especially knowing the ending), I'd be able to give it a better chance. But as a physicist and a science/math geek, it was just frustrating. The moments that interested me most also frustrated me most.

And then the night took a complete turn for a wild, insane, high-octane animated Hungarian hip-hop story absurdist comedy based on Romeo and Juliet, "The District!". The title refers to a slummy neighborhood of Budapest where Gypsies, Hungarians, Arabs, Chinese, etc. all live and fight with each other. Richie Lakatos is a school kid with a crush on the daughter of the warring Csorba family, Jules. In a get-rich-quick scheme (if millions of years counts as quick), they build a time machine, go back to the time of dinosaurs, and bury them where the district will someday be so they'll find oil when they return. And that's a small example of the absolutely brilliant ridiculousness that permeates this movie. I just wish it'd be released dubbed into English, because the visuals are so rich and full that it's hard to see everything and read the subtitles. So I'll just have to find this on DVD and watch it over and over again until I've memorized the lines and can just watch the pictures.

And that was last Wednesday at Dead Channels

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Jason goes to Dead Channels--day 6

I missed the 3 pm show again, will probably miss this afternoon's (although they're both already on my Netflix queue). So just 3 movies last night, and here they are:

First up was "Jupiter Love", a kinetic, apocalyptic (theme alert!), ultra-low budget two-person video from Australia about the extinction of the male race. Chromosome X (Nikka Kalashnikova) is an artist who is on her way to her exhibition. She specializes in deformed representations of the female body, but lately she's lost her inspiration. On the road, she's approached by Chromosome Y (Michael Andre) who drives up alongside her and starts videotaping her while mouthing "I love you!" She responds by teasing him, which drives him into a rage. She escapes, and this reinvigorates her artistic passions. On the road with new video, she runs into him again (literally, Andre is a stuntman as well as an actor). Their battle continues as a crazed road trip down the darkest parts of the battle of the sexes. Some people I talked to afterwards criticized it as being misogynistic. Personally, I think it's completely misanthropic, and there's more misandry than misogyny. Ultimately, it defines both sexes in terms of disease, and points to a future where at least the virus of the Y chromosome is eliminated. And it puts that out possibly as a brighter future. Truly insane, and truly an indie no-budget gem which proves you don't need money to put insanity on screen. Andre and Kalashnikova are the only two actors, and they only two camera operators. He did all his stunts, including driving. Her brother filled in as her stunt driver. Her dad financed the whole thing. And I assume the cows and the kangaroo (uncredited) were just a happy coincidence.

Next up was the first real big budget film from long-time Indiefest and Holehead friend Kazuyoshi Kumakiri ("Antenna", "Kichiku Dai Enkai", "Green Minds, Metal Bats"). "Freesia: Icy Tears" aka "Freesia: Bullets Over Tears" is a quintessentially Japanese (or at least quintessentially Kumakiri-san) near future sci-fi thriller based on a best-selling manga story. In the near future, the government has passed a law declaring victims have the right to get revenge on criminals. At a certain pre-appointed time, the victim is allowed a "vengeance execution". The victim is allowed to hire professional killers, and the condemned is allowed to hire bodyguards, which turns the whole thing into a bizarre game. Civilians are supposed to evacuate the local and/or stay indoors, but of course there are big crowds shoving their way in to try to get a peek. The hero of the story is a professional vengeance killer, who is unable to feel either physical or emotional pain due to his past military duty involving a "freeze bomb". In a deplorable experiment, the military used orphans as test subjects, freezing to death all but one little girl, who survived but is also left physically and emotionally numb as a result. Now she's grown up, is in charge of the vengeance killer agency. Now the men responsible for the freeze bomb experiment are being brought to justice, and our hero and heroine have a chance to do their job and enact personal revenge--that is, if they could feel anything about it. It's definitely Kumakiri's most polished work, but it still retains the demented and inventive energy of his previous works. It looks like this is one of those moments when one of my beloved cult directors is making a leap to a wider audience. Those are a little bittersweet, because he's no longer my secret, but I welcome his new fans into the fold, and invite them to go rent his first movie, "Kichiku Dai Enkai", perhaps the nastiest movie I've ever seen.

And finally, the world premiere of locally made (although shot in New York) feature debut from Jeff Roenning, "Hot Baby!" (and yes, that exclamation point is in the title). It's the story of a geeky teenager name Jim (Adam Scarimbolo), his domineering father Tex (Greg Travis, hilariously stealing every scene he's in), the mystery surrounding his missing mother, and all his horny friends. After a particularly unpleasant encounter with Tex, and some amount of urging by his girlfriend (Emily Grace, who is hot), Jim leaves home to search for his mother. He and his friends find a supposedly abandoned (buy mysteriously tidy) town, decide to get high and have a party, and fucked-up hijinx ensue, including a little "Porky's" inspired penis severing (interestingly enough, "The Secret Life of Sarah Sheldon" was having its second screening next door. I don't know of any other time that two cock-slicing films were playing simultaneously so close together). The movie's definitely low-budget, and some of the acting in the lesser roles is uneven. It's not a polished production, but it more than makes up for it by having generous doses of my sense of humor. Here's a picture of the sick bastard who created it all, Jeff Roenning:
And that was my night. I was going to go to the after party at the Cat Club, which involved taking the BART one stop over. But it was running late enough that I'd barely have time to run to the bar, get one drink (if the bar wasn't crowded), drink quickly, and run back to BART. So I decided to skip it and have a semi-early night. Even that plan was foiled when the train stopped for 15 minutes just before it got to Union City. Turns out there was an earthquake reported, and they had to wait for confirmation from the dispatcher before continuing. So I still got home really late, and I'm still working on very little sleep. Oh well, 3 more movies coming up tonight: "Nuit Noire", "The 4th Dimension", and "The District!". We're on the final stretch now.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Jason goes to Dead Channels--day 5

And my lightest day of the festival. One shorts program, one Hypnodrome show, and I was actually home and in bed before midnight.

I also have to confess failure. I finally missed a Dead Channels screening. I couldn't make it up for the 3 pm secret free screening. I do, however, know what it was, I've seen it before, and it's recently become available on DVD (and that's all I can say). I'm sorry I missed it, but I'm not letting that slow me down. On to the movies!

First up was a series of 3 shorts and a 45 minute feature-ette. Here we go:
"Ambassadors Day" is a cool post-apocalyptic (by the way, apocalypse or post-apocalypse is another theme of the festival) story of humanity, friendship, and duty. The earth is unsafe for humans unless they wear gas masks. Two ambassadors meet on a deserted plain for official (and intentional obscure and tedious) protocol exchange. Too bad the floating eyeball who controls one of them has ideas far beyond diplomacy. "Dispense with Contents!" Cool film, and here's a picture of direction David Kellum:

"The Grandfather Paradox"--A college professor of temporal mechanics explains the time-travel paradox of killing your grandfather before he reproduces. His grandson appears and tries to kill him. His class becomes much more popular after that.
"The Pit and the Pendulum"--Ray Harryhausen produces a claymation version of Poe's classic story. It stays pretty faithful to the story, but is a little quick. It's so beautiful, I wanted it to slow down and take longer.
And finally, the feature-ette "Belleville Book of the Dead". Michel is approaching 40, has a pretty normal life but is very attached to his mother. When she dies, he expects that's the last he'll ever see of her. Then one day, he sees her up and about in the neighborhood of Belleville (which she never much cared for when alive). She's as active and talkative as ever, and it turns out there's a huge community of dead people out there, including his ex-girlfriend. It's not scary, it's just very French (although transplanted from an English story by Will Self), humorous, and intriguing--especially Michel going to a party of the dead and being the outsider.
Then I went over to the Hypnodrome for their Spookshow Salute. Sadly guest Dick Newton, who started out in spook shows when he was 19, couldn't make it for medical reasons. We're all wishing you well, Mr. Newton.
But the show must go on, and Thrillpeddler shows are always fun. There was a Jack Chick tract exposing the dangers of D&D. The Creepshow campers (the Thrillpeddlers summer camp for kids) put on a gypsy spookshow (and the lights out thrills were well done). There was a sing-along to "Bohemian Rhapsody" on their classic player piano (not one of those new computerized ones, this has actually punched hole reels, and there's one for "Bohemian Rhapsody"). And to top it all off, the Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi pre-Hays code classic "Black Cat". It has nothing to do with the Poe story. An American couple honeymoons in Hungary, where they meet Bela Lugosi on the train. When their bus overturns, they have to take refuge at Boris Karloff's house. Karloff is a satanic priest with designs on them, and Bela Lugosi is his old adversary trying to protect them, although even he's so creepy that they don't trust him, either. Pretty cool, even with the audio cutting out a bit in the first reel. By that time we were all so drunk on thrills (and in my case, beer) that we just made up our own dialogue.
And that was Monday at Dead Channels. Three more movies tonight, as I once again can't leave work early enough to catch the 3 pm secret screening (and I know what it is, and it's available on DVD although I'd love to see it on the big screen since I've never seen it before).

Monday, August 13, 2007

Jason goes to Dead Channels--day 4

5 more movies yesterday, so let's jump right in

First up was the quietly understated and unsettling "Disquiet". So many movies at these kinds of genre festivals are about making fans yell "Woooo" throughout, but this is the exact opposite. Several times I was afraid to breath for fear of making a sound that would break the tension (unfortunately, I've started developing a bit of a nagging cough, probably from too little sleep and too much beer). This is a movie that's not about monsters, psychos, or any of the standard genre spooks, this is about the fear of yourself (or at least, it spoke to me of fear of myself, so if I missed the point then I'm really fucked up). Darren works as a computer expert for a used car dealership and tries writing novels. He's also trapped in a cycle of routine, except for his "project", which involves secretly observing and recording his co-worker and his family. See, the big problem he has with writing is he doesn't understand human behavior. To him, people are like fish in an aquarium, moving about with no apparent motivation. Enter Mason (director Matthew Doyle), a new salesman at the dealership who takes an interest in Darren, his writing, and his project. They are developing quite a friendship, until Mason tries to kiss Darren. Darren pushes him away, and goes forward with his project, crossing a line from voyeurism to violation in an excruciating extended climactic shot. I don't want to give anything away, but I'll just say that everything in the scene is creepy an unsettling, even his decision to stop can be read in an unsettling way. Now my regular readers or people who've seen me at the movies know I nearly always sit front row center. I just want to say that there's something about sitting in the front row that's more intimate--there are no boundaries between me and the movie when I sit in the front row. For better or worse, this is a movie where I believe that greatly enhances the experience. Here's a picture of director Matthew Doyle:

Then it was time for the sleazy Sunday program with the legendary Jack Hill (I shook his hand!!!). First up was his classic first feature, "Spider Baby". What can I say that hasn't been said already? Probably nothing. It's a crazy-family-kills-the-visitors story (premised by a family-specific disease that causes people to revert to pre-human cannibalistic urges as they age), but it's also so much more than that. It's a brilliant twisted comedy (the whole spider game cracks me up) and it's a showcase of fantastic acting, from Sid Haig as the retarded brother to Lon Chaney Jr's final role as the family's loyal chauffeur. And it was an absolute treat to see it on the big screen.

Next up was another treat, a very rare screening of a gorgeous print of "Pit Stop" aka "Winner", Jack Hill's forgotten classic muscle car race movie (which I had never seen). Jack Hill introduced it by saying that he wanted to make an art movie about car racing, he wanted to make the artsy choice to have the hero lose the big race. Roger Corman (who financed but didn't distribute the movie) nixed that idea, so he made it so the hero won the race, but lost his soul, which is a brilliant touch. Shot semi-guerrilla style and becoming as much a documentary on extreme racing, it follows the story of Rick Bowman (Richard Davalos) as he makes the leap from small time street drag racing to the insane figure-eight racetrack, where Sid Haig as "the Hawk" is the dominant and domineering force (because, as he explains, he's the "dingy-est" guy out there, so everyone gets out of his way) and ultimately to the big event at the Phoenix International. At first he's aggressive but naive, but success corrupts his morals (but not his aggression). It's crammed full with insane racing and wild crashes all throughout, and the final, tragic race doesn't disappoint. One final point, a muscle car is basically a surrogate phallus, so on a philosophical level this is another deadly cock movie. Deadly cock-fest reigns supreme!

Here's a picture of the legend, Jack Hill himself. It was exciting enough hearing him speak just feet away from me, much less shake his hand:

Next up was a Japanese kids monster flick, "Gamera the Brave". Gamera is a giant turtle monster, defender of children, and the hero of a number of movies, none of which I've actually seen (sorry, I have bad gaps in my Japanese monster movie knowledge). Anyway, this is the origin story, where Toru, a little boy, finds a mysterious egg out of which hatches a cute turtle he names Toto. Toto grows quickly, starts flying, and starts shooting fireballs from his mouth. Still, he's Toru's beloved pet, so when Zedus, a spiky monster who shoots his projectile tongue, attacks and young Toto/Gamera faces him, Toru feels he must help, even against the orders of his father. The seen where all the children relay the magic glowing red stone, the source of Gamera's power, to him is so beautiful it actually made me tear up a bit. Now I want my own pet turtle who can fly and spit fire. I'm sure if I don't overfeed him he won't get too big. Oh yeah, and Zedus' projectile tongue kinda looks, I guess not everything is a deadly dick flick. Sometimes a giant deadly pink projectile tongue is just a giant deadly pink projectile tongue.

And the final movie of the weekend was "Fingerprints", based on a Texan urban legend. 50 years ago, a busload of schoolchildren died when they were hit by a train. Legend has it if you stop your car on the tracks and leave it in neutral, the ghosts of the children will push it to safety (and leave the titular fingerprints on your car). Melanie (Leah Pipes) has just moved there with her family after getting out of rehab. Her near-fatal overdose on heroin has left her seeing visions of ghosts, and she gets involved with the mystery of the train crash, the children, and the dark town secret. I'll give it credit for being well made, but the end product is formulaic and cliched. I can't point to anything specifically wrong with it, I'm just left with the feeling that I've seen that story many times before. Director Harry Basil has some skill, although looking him up on IMDb I see he started with direct-to-video Rodney Dangerfield comedies and this is his second horror film (his third horror film, "Urban Decay" is supposed to be out this year). He certainly has the technical chops to make something good, so here's hoping he has a really original story to work with some time.

And that's the Dead Channels weekend. A couple more shows tonight, including the Hypnodrome's "Spookshow Salute". There's also a mystery screening from the Cosmic Hex vault's at 3 pm, and a little birdy told me what it is but I can't tell you.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Jason goes to Dead Channels--day 3

Aka deadly cock-fest. More on that later, but I've identified the first theme, and my favorite theme ever.

A marathon day, 6 movies, so you should start to see these reviews get really rambling and incoherent (and the spelling errors should increase).

First up was the 1953 version of "War of the Worlds". I'll go ahead and assume everyone already knows the story of Martians attacking Earth and briefly dominating man before they succumb to simple Earth bacteria. Well, this telling sticks to the story pretty faithfully (although putting it in southern California instead of England, but since the premise is that this is happening worldwide, that's completely fair). But it takes the story in a religion vs. science direction as scientists from Pacific Tech try to fight back only to fail. The Martians finally succumb coincidentally right after they attack a church, and the lead scientist gets the girl and presumably religion, too. It's very much a product of it's time, but lest you think it just thumps the Bible at you, they also had no qualms about vaporizing a priest. All in all, this was really cool to see on the big screen, even with (especially with) the height of cheesy 50's special effects.

Next up we moved from the 50's to the 70's with "Welcome Home Brother Charles" aka "Soul Vengeance". Director Jamaa Fanaka (the "Penitentiary" movies) made this as his second student movie. When most students turned in something 10 minutes long, he made a 1 hour 45 minute feature about black rage. Jamaa was there for the screening, and he's a hell of a character. In his hilarious intro he talked about the myth of black men's sexual apparatus, how rumors of its size were started by white men during slavery to frighten women, and how that totally backfired. And he claims he made this movie to burst that myth, although for my money he exploits it to the hilt, as it were. Charles is a dope peddler who is arrested by a racist cop who tries to castrate him. 3 years later, he's released and trying to clean up his life. But he's still tormented by the abuse from the cop, the cop's partner, the judge, the DA, basically all the white characters. So during the day he stops by their houses to seduce their wives and turn them into his zombie slaves. Then he makes them let him in at night so he can strangle whitey with his 15 foot prehensile penis. Awesome, just fucking awesome!

Jamaa also sold me a DVD of this movie and "Penitentiary" signed "Peace, love and much success", but he told me he really meant "Peace, love, and much pussy". Jamaa is awesome! Here's a picture of the awesome Jamaa Fanaka:

Next up was the second shorts program, "Short and Really Scary", the shorts that go a little further than the "Short and Scary" ones. Here they are.
"Rhyme Animal"--Hip hop cannibalism from Shiva himself.
"Red Harvest"--Pot running teens run over a kid, then run into some demons.
"Anonymity"--Plays like a clip from a longer movie, a woman tries to save her boyfriend from a really, really cruel sadist. Well done, but I want the feature length movie.
"Criticized"--I saw this at Cinequest and reviewed it here (near the bottom). I stand by that review, as ridiculous as it was, and I'll add that it contains possibly the best eye abuse I've ever seen. I love this movie and director Richard Gale said he's trying to turn it into a feature. I hope he's successful.
"Meter Maid Me Massacre"--crazy fucked-up kung-fu zombie splatstick comedy about the evils of San Francisco meter maid demons.

Here's director Richard Gale of "Criticized"

And here are Dylan Griffith, director of "Red Harvest" and Cecil B. Feeder, the maniac responsible for "Meter Maid Me Massacre"

Next up was "The Living and the Dead" which I saw twice at Holehead and reviewed here. I'll stand by that review, but just add that on a third screening, I'm still seeing more interpretations. Oddly, this time I embraced the most straight-forward reading possible. I also on a whim was given a chance to introduce the movie, which was cool. And it was preceded by director Simon Rumley's newest short film, "Handyman". A widow lives in a secluded farmhouse, and hires a charming, attractive man to help out around the house. Problem is, he might hold a horrible secret, like being a serial killer. Simon Rumley once again shows a great eye behind the camera and a stark sense of beauty. He's quickly becoming one of the most fascinating filmmakers in my mind.

And next was a forgotten film from someone who's already one of my favorite directors, David Cronenberg's "Crimes of the Future". About ten years ago I went on a Cronenberg kick and saw what I thought were all his movies. Turned out I missed this, "Stereo" and "Fast Company". Now I've not only seen "Crimes of the Future", I've seen it in a way that possibly no other audience ever will. In the original "Crimes of the Future" the soundtrack was a bunch of pops and squeaks with narration by the main character, Adrian Tripod. But Dead Channels presented it with a new soundtrack by the synthesizer duet Spoonbender 1.1.1, which was awesome. The movie itself is pure hardcore Cronenberg. Adrian Tripod runs a medical institution founded by Antoine Rouge, a mad doctor most (in)famous for a condition in which victims excrete mysterious white foam which is tasty but eventually kills them. Adrian is his trenchcoated disciple, lording over the institute and the handful of bizarre patients (including a guy who grows new organs with no discernible purpose). The methods of the institution are suspect, such as massaging feet in hopes that they'll reverse-evolve back into fins or tentacles. But more questionable is the international conspiracy of pedophiles that's somehow linked to all of this. Yeah, it's a freakin' mind trip. I liked it, but when it came to rating it on a scale of 1 to 10, I wanted to give it an imaginary number, like 8i.

Here's Bruce Fletcher leading the Q&A with Spoonbender 1.1.1:

And finally the midnight movie, "The Secret Life of Sarah Sheldon", featured the second deadly penis of the day (and third in the festival, if you count the Krotchy dolls from "Postal"). The premise is actually quite logical: overpopulation is a problem, specifically too much breeding by stupid people. Stupid people are more likely to have casual, unprotected sex, so if you come up with a way for casual sex to result in sterilization instead of pregnancy. That's Sarah Sheldon's life work, developing implants that will do just that. Trouble develops when the male implant mounted on her friend Alex malfunctions, grows fangs, and kills a girl instead of just sterilizing her. It also tends to bite Alex on the inner thighs, which is annoying and painful. So it has to be removed--with gardening shears. Oh yeah, a penis monster and a de-phallusing in the same movie, I'm in heaven. Anyway, then it gets kinda weird. Oh yeah, Sarah's not a real doctor, she was kicked out of med school for playing with the cadavers. I should also mention that it was projected very dark in the theater, so a lot of the detail was obscured. Luckily director Annette Ashlie Slomka gave me a DVD so I can see a clearer version of it. That won't be until after the festival, but if I have anything to add after that I'll post it then. But I wanted to post a review up while I could still encourage everyone to see the second screening this Tuesday at 9:30.

And that was day 3 of Dead Channels, aka Deadly Cock-Fest 2007.
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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Jason goes to Dead Channels--day 2

Okay, 5 more movies yesterday, I'm on the bus home, let's do this:

First up was a political movie disguised as a screwball comedy, introduced as a companion piece to "Postal", "World Sinks (Except Japan)". Directed by Minoru Kawasaki, who made one of my silly favorites in "Calamari Wrestler", and I'm told based on a book that's a parody of a recent disaster movie, "The Sinking of Japan", I had high hopes for this movie. Unfortunately, despite the great premise it's delivered with no energy. The idea is through rapid plate tectonic acts, first America sinks, then the rest of the world until all the survivors are crammed onto Japan. Japan quickly becomes jingoistic and xenophobic, and the idea of a bar where all the former world leaders hang out and drink is pretty cool. It's just, as I said, delivered with no energy. People ramble about the politics instead of getting worked up, and maybe that's the point that I missed. I just expected better from the team behind "Calamari Wrestler". That movie wasn't expertly made, but at least it had life (and is actually one of my favorites, in large part for the cheesiness). I can forgive that the 'American' wife of a Japanese man speaks with an accent. But when she'd rather be deported with the famous American actor rather than stay with her husband and I don't feel like she cares that much, this movie has lost me.

Next up was the shorts program "Short & Scary", let's do this quickly:
"The Listening Dead"--Brilliant visuals resurrecting and reinventing/subverting black and white silent films to tell the story of a man who'd rather write his music than talk to his wife, and the voodoo vengeance they take on each other. I loved this, and not just because I've drunk with director Phil Mucci the last couple of nights. In any case, here he is:

"Lump"--the fear of medical problems, specifically breast cancer and surgical treachery.
"Happy Birthday 2 You"--A social worker investigates an allegedly abused child. I could swear I've seen this before...and I did, at Cinequest, I just reviewed it by it's Spanish name, "Y Que Cumplas Muchos Mas".
"Akai"--nearly silent Brazilian film about a vampire and the escorts he calls and kills who always look the same. Or it's a story of a guy having some bad hallucinations and cravings. Either way, the cinematography is awesome but it drags. It should've been about half as long.
"In the Wall"-- saw it at Holehead and reviewed it here, but I didn't realize when I reviewed it that it's by the guy who did "The Silvergleam Whistle". Now he's done two shorts that I think could work as features.

Next up was "The Trail of the Screaming Forehead" by Larry Blamire, who directed "The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra" which is another of my silly favorites. He moves up to color here, but still keeps the same sensibility in telling the story of alien forehead creatures trying to take over earth, and the salty sea dogs, the librarian, and the scientists at the Institute for Brain Studying who stop them. Basically, if you liked "Skeleton", you'll be on board and like this. I loved it, and laughed my ass off. For a filmmaker who has specialized in intentionally awkwardly constructed dialogue, he has raised the bar for awkward sentence construction higher than the height to which an awkwardly constructed sentence has ever had its bar raised. If you laughed at that, you're one of us.

Then there was "End of the Line", my hands down favorite of the festival so far (although there's still lots to see). In the simplest explication, it's a zombie flick with religious fanatics as zombies (which means my atheist sentiments were all a-twitter). It's also a nasty, bloody gorefest. A young psychiatric nurse has had a bad day, and is trying to catch the subway home. She's approached by a creepy guy, but saved by a nice guy and soon gets on the train home. But very quickly the train stops, there's a garbled message from the conductor, and several passengers' cell phones ring. They're all members of the Church of the Voice of Hope, and their reverend is telling them that the end is here and they should save all the souls they can. However, their method of "saving" souls involves stabbing them until they're is heaven. A small group of non-believers try to survive. But it's not just a good premise, the execution is also terrific, very quickly making me jump more than a few times. And I'm pretty jaded, so I don't admit that often. But to director Maurice Devereaux and his crew, my kudos!

And finally, the midnight movie "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark". I didn't see this when it was first on TV, mainly because I was -1 years old. And I've missed it anytime it was replayed, but apparently it fucked up a generation including Bruce and now he found a rare 16 mm print to show us. A married couple move into her family's old Victorian house and start fixing it up. There's a room they're advised to avoid a certain room, her father's study, and especially the fireplace that's been bricked up 4 bricks deep with reinforced steel rebar. Unfortunately, the ash trap is easier to open, and she ends up releasing gorilla-suited raisin-headed midget demons. Or maybe she's going nuts. No I think she released demons. Pretty cool, even though I'm not really the target generation (but maybe I'm close to it).

And for those keeping score at home, I've now topped 300 movies so far this year. The "Short and Scary" program was number 300, I'm up to 303 now.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Jason goes to Dead Channels--opening night

San Francisco's newest festival of fantastic film officially kicked off last night in style. I, of course, was there front row for all three movies. They didn't wast any time, so neither will I, here we go:

First up was an ultra-rare 35 mm print (possibly the only one in existence) of Kurt Vonnegut Jr's "Happy Birthday, Wanda June" from 1971. It's Vonnegut's hilarious riff on the nature of death and killing (I guess appropriately, he died just earlier this year). Rod Steiger chews up the sets as manly adventurer Harold Ryan, missing in the Amazon for 8 years with his friend/pilot/Nagasaki bomber Looseleaf Harper (William Hickey). Susannah York plays his wife (presumed widow) Penelope, who has finally gotten over his presumed death and is being courted by two men--manly man wannabe and vacuum salesman Herb Shuttle (Don Murray) and pacifist allegedly gay Dr. Norbert Woodley (George Grizzard). Meanwhile her son Paul (Steven Paul) hates both suitors and believes daddy will come home any day now. And when he does, all hell breaks loose. Meanwhile, Wanda June looks down on it all from heaven, where apparently anyone can get in, and Hitler plays shuffleboard with Jesus. Wanda gives sage advice from her privileged position, like killing people is the nicest thing to do to them because heaven is so much fun! Meanwhile there's tons of quotable lines, mostly from Rod Steiger. My personal favorite was "Giving a beautiful woman an education is like pouring honey on a Swiss watch--everything stops!" Interestingly, right after the movie I figured I was a horrible person because the only character I sympathized with was Harold Ryan. You're supposed to hate him, but everyone else is such a goddamn pussy he was the only one I connected with. But after sleeping on it, I realize I actually sympathize with Looseleaf more. His constant, "Oh geeze, I dunno..." is infuriating at first, but on further review it's the most honest answer a rational man can give to questions of life and death. And his epiphany that he should've had the spine to not drop the bomb on Nagasaki is now for me the key to the movie. Although I suspect on future viewings that might change. Too bad that's practically impossible, as it's not playing again in the festival and it's never been on video or DVD. I'll have to make due with reading the book, I guess. Oddly, although I love Vonnegut, this is one of his books that I've never read.

Next up was a boys-in-prison movie, "Big Bang Love, Juvenile A" from Japan's incredibly prolific bad-boy auteur Takashi Miike. It's weird for me to say this about a Miike film, but I still don't know what to make of it. And I say that's weird because really there's a part of me that should say that about every Miike film. But this is the first one where I really didn't know how to react. Jun Ariyoshi and Shiro Kazuki are sent to an all boys prison on the same day sometime in the unspecified future. Kazuki gets in fights with everyone, Ariyoshi is mostly quiet. Sometime later Kazuki is strangled, ostensibly by Ariyoshi, who is found with his hands around Kazuki's throat and confesses to the murder. However, closer inspection reveals that he was strangled not by hand, but by some sort of wire. So an investigation is launched to find the real killer (even the warden is suspect, as Kazuki was in jail for raping the warden's wife). It jumps around in time and there's something about a giant pyramid and a rocket ship. There's still Miike's grand visual sensibility, but again I don't really know what to make of it beyond a meditation on homosexuality, love, jealousy, revenge, time, and astronomy.

And finally, the highlight of the night, the US premiere of the breaks-all-taboos comedy "Postal" from infamous director Uwe Boll (who was in attendance with much of the cast). I'm not even going to qualify it by saying it's good for a Uwe Boll movie, it's just good, period. Apparently fuck-the-world angry comedy is Boll's genre. He specifically said before the movie that he made it because he was angry at the world situation (especially the war in Iraq), his critics, and himself personally. So he made a movie that starts with a 9/11 joke and gets more offensive from there. The story in a nutshell is that Postal Dude has a bad day, teams up with his uncle Dave (Foley of "Kids in the Hall") to rob a warehouse of ultra-popular Krotchy dolls (stuffed phallic characters voiced by Vern Troyer). Problem is, Osama Bin Laden (who in this movie is a good friend of George W. Bush) is also after those dolls to spread avian flu over America. But really, the plot is just there to show horrible, despicable people doing horrible, despicable, hilarious things, like shooting children, exploiting the retarded, or locking Vern Troyer in a room full of 1,000 horny monkeys. Uwe himself makes a cameo as himself, admitting that his movies are financed by Nazi gold before punching out the creator of the "Postal" video game.

I feel like I haven't done this review justice, but I'm struggling with not giving away spoilers. Just believe me that this is hardcore offensive hilarious. I already can't wait to see the extended cut on DVD. This has a limited theatrical release on October 12. Please, ignore the fact that you hate Uwe Boll and give this a chance, because dammit I want this to be so popular they make a sequel so I can see what Boll would do if he had to top this. And hell, at the after party I got to shake Osama Bin Laden's hand and tell him I loved his work.

Oh yeah, one thing. I could've done without the scene of Dave Foley's penis, but what can you do about that? I still laughed.

Here's Uwe Boll with Dead Channels founder Bruce Fletcher:

Here's Uwe again with Larry Thomas (Osama Bin Laden) and Zack Ward (Postal Dude)

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Sunday, August 5, 2007

Jason watches "Sunshine" and "Offside"

I didn't have time to write this before heading to Birmingham. Now it's midnight, I just finished a long days work, and I'll write this up quickly rather than going to sleep. Last Sunday I caught "Sunshine" and I have to say that Danny Boyle is one of the most interesting visual stylists working in the mainstream today, and "Sunshine" is 100% his style. I also have to say that it's great to see real sci-fi on screen, instead of just fantasy in space. Not that I really dislike fantasy in space, it's just nice to see serious, good sci-fi. And up until it turned into a horror movie in space it was great. But, like "28 Days Later" ("They're infected...with raaaage!"), Danny Boyle is interesting enough and takes enough chances that I'll forgive him an indulgence that went the wrong way.

And then I stayed in the same theater at the Camera 12 for a special screening of "Offside" sponsored in part by Soccer Silicon Valley and the San Jose Earthquakes. In Iran, it's illegal for women to watch men's sporting events. In 2005, Iran beat Bahrain to advance to the World Cup. This movie is the story of some girls who try to sneak into the match, and was shot in large part guerrilla-style just outside the stadium while the game's going on. In their arguments with the soldiers they explore with varying degrees of humor and pathos the ridiculousness of the law (especially given that female fans of the opposing team are usually allowed in). But mostly, it captures the frustration of being right outside a soccer game you can't see. And in the end, when they win, the law becomes second place to the celebration.

Okay, I'm turning in now.

Jason tells you how to see (almost) everything at Dead Channels

It's possible, but not trivial, and here's how you do it (sort of):

Bruce (the founder/programmer of Dead Channels and former programmer of Indiefest and Another Hole in the Head) has made it difficult, I have to see something in every time slot. And, in fact, it's impossible to see absolutely everything. You can see the Thrillpeddlers "Spookshow Salute" at the Hypnodrome Monday night, but not their "Thrillpeddlers Flashback" on Wednesday night.

So, this will be exhausting, we'll see if I survive. I wanted to write more about the actual program. I've already written about how I'm excited to see if Uwe Boll actually made a good movie with "Postal". I also wanted to mention I'm excited about a new Miike film, "Bang Bang Love, Juvenile A" (Miike does a boys-in-prison film?). "Trail of the Screaming Forehead" is by Larry Blamire, who made "The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra" which is one of my favorites. With "Crimes of the Future" I'd thought I'd seen everything Cronenberg did, but this is a surprise from his early career. "Living and the Dead" was one of my top picks from Holehead, and is repeated here. "Z. P. G." (Zero Population Growth) is an old forgotten film from 1972. Bruce told me that when he saw "Children of Men" (another of my favorites) he thought, 'this is a remake of ZPG!', so that's awesome.

Plus there's "Spider Baby", "Gamera the Brave", the old "War of the Worlds". Basically, there's a lot too look forward to. Stay tuned here to see how it all goes down.

[Update: Multiple people have commented that I forgot to put in the Cosmic Hex secret screenings. So here it is: 3 pm next Mon-Thurs, at the Roxie, is ???? from the Cosmic Hex vault. Since I work in Milpitas and am very busy currently, it'll be a struggle just to make the 5:15 shows, but I'll try to make at least one of the secret shows]

Jason watches "The Ten"

As I mentioned previously, this was my backup plan for not getting rush tickets to "Sweet Mud". It's a wacky short story compilation based on the ten commandments, each introduced by Paul Rudd and starring a cast (Winona Ryder, Jessica Alba, Gretchen Mol, Liev Schrieber) that's unexpected from what appears to be a pretty independent, weird movie. I don't want to go into a lot of detail, this is in general release so you can find plenty of information about it. It's foul-mouthed, dirty, but mostly just really weird. It's main problem is it begs waaaay too hard for every joke. And about 10 minutes in I realized 'Oh! I get it, this movie is retarded!' At that point, I could try to sit back and just enjoy it on it's own terms. And by the second five, where it starts folding back on itself and referencing the earlier stories, it does get pretty clever. Humor is very subjective, and if you look past the desperation, there are quite a few laugh out loud moments here. I can almost imagine the great movie that's underneath if it weren't so insistent on always being "on". As it is, it likely has a strong future as a cult classic.

Jason goes to Jewfest--Saturday, Aug. 4

The festival continues in San Rafael for two more days, but I'm done with it. So here we go, 4 movies yesterday:

The day started with music, with the documentary "Yiddish Soul" and the accompanying concert film, "Concert Yiddish Soul". The first is pretty heavy on the music, with just the bare minimum introduction of the history of Yiddish klezmer music and how it was all but destroyed in the shoah. There's brief introductions of the musicians, Chava Alberstein, Myriam Fuks, Shura Lipovsky, Karsten Troyke (my favorite, he did the best job of mixing comedy into his performance), the KlezRoym. Interestingly, a lot of the newer musicians aren't even Jewish, but Yiddish klezmer has achieved a respected status as "world music" that can be enjoyed by anyone. If "Yiddish Soul" mostly lets the music speak for itself, "Concert Yiddish Soul" does only that. It's just raw concert footage, but after watching the first movie you know all the musicians in the concert, and you can just sit back and enjoy the music. Which is nice because too many music documentaries cut the performances short just when you're getting into it. This isn't really the case with "Yiddish Soul", but it's a good idea for many other music documentaries to include a companion piece with just the concert.

Next up, the musical day continued, moving a little further east to Arabic music in "Between Two Notes". Specifically, it focuses on Arab Jews who played classical Arab music and keep the tradition alive (although under fire) in Israel. Director Florence Strauss (daughter of famous Egyptian born French film producer Robert Hakim) is herself descended from Arab Jews, and used this movie to explore her own roots. There's some obvious points about using music to bridge gaps (a major theme of the festival this year), but again it focuses mostly on the music and lets it speak for itself. It is interesting to hear so many scholars talk about quarter tones and how western ears don't know how to listen to Middle Eastern music. They tend to find it repetitive (and songs allegedly go on for hours), but if you have an ear that can hear the quarter tones you realize that it's not repetition it's variations on a theme. Well, my ears can't hear it, but if that's so this is a case where a documentary cutting performances short is a good thing, because I never really got bored with the music. Oh, and the guy who put an extra valve in his trumpet so he could play those tones, thereby inventing the "Arab Trumpet" was way cool.

Next up was yet another documentary, but his one wasn't about music, it was about crypto-Jews; Jews who were forced to convert during the Spanish Inquisition but secretly kept vestiges of their Jewish heritage (lighting candles on Friday night, not eating pork, etc.). "The Longing: The Forgotten Jews of South America" looks at some contemporary descendants of crypto-Jews and their journey to convert (or re-convert) back to Judaism and find a sense of community with their fellow Jews. The tragic thing is, the small pockets of established Jewish community that exist are all holocaust survivors and have (understandably) become very insular and distrusting of outsiders. So a reform conversion--performed by Kansas City rabbi and the film's hero Jacques Cuikerkorn--isn't good enough to let them into the synagogue. However, as one subject finds out, neither is an orthodox conversion. Basically, the established Jewish communities come off looking rather bad, and they don't help their cause by mostly refusing to be in the movie. Ultimately the triumph of the conversions is mostly destroyed by the epilogue showing that one year later things are even tougher for them, while they aren't welcomed into the Jewish community but are shunned more by the overwhelming Roman Catholic culture. Another note, the Catholic culture is so ingrained in South America that it's hard to shake, and it's really funny to see someone kiss a mezuzah and then cross herself.

I needed rush tickets to get into the next movie, "Sweet Mud", and so I should have ran out into line right when the credits rolled (un?) fortunately, there was a panel discussion on crypto-Jews after the movie, and darn it if it wasn't so interesting that I decided to stay and listen instead. So by the time I got out the rush line was way too long, and after waiting a bit to see how it might go, I decided to give up. You see, whenever I know I'm going to stand in a rush line, I have a backup plan if I don't get tickets. In this case, my backup was to stroll over to the Shattuck Cinema and see "The Ten" instead. It's a wacky comedy of 10 short stories each based on one of the commandments. So there is a Jewish tie in there, but it's not in the festival and so it's the subject of a different post.

Anyway, it got out just in time for me to wander back and catch the final Jewfest film in Berkeley, "Three Mothers", which was nominated for 9 Ophirs (Israeli Academy Awards) and won 2, but lost best picture to a tie between "Aviva, My Love" and, of all thing, "Sweet Mud" (another reason I figured I could miss it, I'd probably have other chances to see it). "Three Mothers" is about triplets--Flora, Rose, and Yasmin--born in Alexandria, Egypt around 1940. King Farouk himself came to witness the newborns. But they're Jewish, and so they eventually had to leave and go to Israel. The narrative jumps back and forth in time, from their childhood to their young adulthood (marriage, children), to their old age, where Yasmin is dying of kidney failure and is desperately in need of a transplant. This triggers all three of them to go to Rose's daughter Rucha who works at a video production company making video wills for the dying. They each in turn unburden themselves of a terrible event in their past, one that simultaneously strains and strengthens their odd symbiotic relationship. Very emotional, although possibly relying too much on easy emotional shocks (loss of a son, husband, etc), but a very well made movie with some marvelous acting and a great look (cinematography is one of the Ophirs it won).

And that, as far as I'm concerned, is San Francisco Jewfest 2007. As I said, it continues in San Rafael for two more days, but I'm busy today preparing for a business trip to Birmingham, AL early Monday morning. I should be back Wednesday, just in time for Dead Channels on Thursday.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Jason goes to Jewfest--Thursday, Aug. 2

Two more movies, this was the night of crossing the Israeli-Palestinian border.

First up was "Bubble" by Eytan Fox, the gay Israeli director of "Yossi & Jagger". I've never actually seen an Eytan Fox movie before, but I've heard he's a talented filmmaker. And after seeing "Bubble", I believe it. The bubble of the title refers to the neighborhood of Tel Aviv that's sort of a cross between Greenwhich Village and Castro Street, the gay bohemian, very liberal neighborhood. Noam, Yali, and Lulu share a flat there. Lulu is a peppy (and straight) aspiring fashion designer. Yali is a silly coffee shop manager. And Noam is a moody record store clerk and the only one of them who hasn't refused military reserve duty. There he meets Ashraf, a Palestinian who can't legally stay in Israel. Still, after they hook up, Noam convinces his roommates to take him in and give him a fake Jewish name. Politics and love collide, and with all the contradiction there's bound to be tragedy. And the inevitable occurs when Ashraf has to return to the Palestinian territories for his sister's wedding (to a local Hamas leader). With all the tragedy to follow, it's still a slick, fast moving political-romantic drama-tragi-comedy that I understand is Eytan Fox's forte. Very well done, I'll have to check out more of his work.

And finally there was the wonderful documentary, "Knowledge is the Beginning". Daniel Barenboim is a very talented Jewish conductor and pianist. He lives mostly in Berlin but is an Israeli citizen. In the early 1990's he met the Palestinian literary professor (at Columbia University) Edward Said. They became friends and founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, a student orchestra for Israelis and Arabs together. Their goal is to bridge the gap and promote understanding between Israelis and Palestinians. This documentary follows their inspirational story from shortly after their founding up to their 2005 concert in Ramallah. A remarkable story, and an equally remarkable movie which is simultaneously a series of concert movies and a documentary about Barenboim, Said, and the use of music as a a political tool.

And that was Thursday, and now I'm all caught up. Just in time to see 4 or 5 more movies tomorrow (depending on if I'm successful at getting rush tickets for "Sweet Mud").

Jason goes to Jewfest--Wednesday, Aug. 1

Two more movies Wednesday, here we go:

"Bad Faith" is a French romantic comedy about a Muslim man and a Jewish girl who are in love. Everything is fine, until she gets pregnant. Even then, that's even better until they have to introduce each other to their parents. Then things go bad. First her parents freak out, then they mellow out, then they try to convert him. Meanwhile he's terrified to bring her home, and when he gets up the courage she's stuck at work that night. Meanwhile with questions of how the child will be raised, they both start drifting from completely secular to more and more religious. He fasts for Ramadan, she puts a mezuzah on their door (which he has to hide when his mother comes for dinner). Things veer from comic to tragic in a heartbeat, but ultimately it is a comedy and there is a positive ending (without giving too much away). I competent and sometimes brilliant directorial debut by Roschdy Zem, an accomplished actor who plays the male lead Ismaël and was also excellent in "Days of Glory".

Next up was the short film program, "Jews in Shorts". Here we go:
"I'm Charlie Chaplin"--3 year old girl love Chaplin, dresses up as him twice for Halloween. By local Jewish director Jay Rosenblatt, starring his daughter. Pretty funny.
"Orders of Love"-- Jes Benstock (who made "Holocaust Tourist" that played here last year) makes another graphically inventive, kinetic, and highly effective and moving film, this time about his worries about his family history of depression and suicide, and what that means for his young son.
"Tolya"--A sweet and comical story of a toothless Belarusan in Israel calling home to tell his wife he loves her.
Naturalized"--In Soviet Russia, a certain form of cosmetic surgery signifying a Jew's covenant with G-d was banned. For those who've emigrated, the decision of whether or not to have the surgery can be difficult. But if you've made the decision and your family bursts into the hospital to object, it can be hilarious.
Weitzman Street No. 10"--Navigating Tel Aviv can be difficult for a newly arrived Russian family. The air raid siren is scary, but the behavior of their neighbors is just bizarre.
Yedidiah's Collection"--A short documentary about the withdrawal of Gaza settlers, told from the point of view of Yedidiah, a young boy who collects spent ammunition. That's just life.
Your Younger Daughter Rachel"--A drama of household abuse, fear, and a young woman trying to live with her abusive father and cowardly mother. Good, but sad and long. It kind of dragged on, and that's just not what I wanted to end the night on.

And that was Wednesday. I'm almost caught up.

[Update: I forgot to mention that there was a short before "Bad Faith". "A Kiss is a Kiss is a Kiss". Unlikely couples are put on a couch and the director tries to coax them to kiss. There's a pair of straight men, an old lady with a teenage boy, a liberal woman with an orthodox man (who can't even touch a woman unless he's married to her), and a Palestinian man with a female Israeli soldier. Three of the four couples actually kiss. Guess which one doesn't.]

Jason goes to Jewfest--Tuesday, July 31

So I've actually been at Jewfest all week, but I've been too busy to write. Luckily tonight there's no movies because of the sabbath. However, there are movies tomorrow, and the sabbath doesn't end until sundown Saturday. What's up with that?

Anyway, now is my chance to write up the movies I've been seeing, starting with last Tuesday. First up was a short and feature about, of all things, poetry. I'm not a poet, and I don't pretend to "get" poetry. Honestly, I saw this because it was scheduled at a good time for me. And there's a reason I do stuff like that, because every so often I'll find a fantastic movie that just blows me away, and that's exactly what happened (with the feature). First, the short, "Ezekiel's Wheels" was the American-Israeli poet Shirley Kaufman reading one of her new works, "Ezekiel's Wheels". The poem starts with her struggle with starting to go blind (she has since recovered) and grows to an all-consuming philosophy, incorporating art, scripture, and life. The movie is mostly her reading, with some sparsely used stock footage, mostly of bombs. It's not bad, but it's really for poetry enthusiasts.

But the feature, "So Long Are You Young" was amazing and can really appeal to anyone. It's a documentary about Samuel Ullman and his poem "Youth". The story in a nutshell: Samuel Ullman was a German Jewish immigrant to America in the late 1800's. Specifically, he settled in Birmingham, Alabama. He was mostly a poor merchant, but very active in community service, including serving on the school board and pushing for equal schooling for black children. In the early 1900's, mourning the death of his wife and going deaf, he wrote "Youth", which promptly sold very few copies. However, it had it's admirers, although it was often reprinted without attribution. One of those unattributed (and slightly corrupted) copies was given to Gen. Douglas MacArthur when he was stationed in the Philippines. When MacArthur took charge of rebuilding Japan after the war, he kept a copy of the poem in his office. The devastated, demoralized Japanese took it to heart, and drew courage and inspiration from it. One of those who read the poem was Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of a successful electronics company that specialized in cheap versions of American products. He had an idea for a grand expansion of his company, but feared in his 70's that he was too old and feeble to pull it off. After reading the poem, he went ahead and founded Panasonic. Although few Americans know the poem, much less the poet, it's practically mandatory reading for Japanese CEO's, and is largely credited with Japan's post-war recovery. Pretty amazing, I have nothing to add. I just really dig true stories of small events with amazingly wide-reaching effects (for another of these types of stories, also with a Jewish twist, check out "Beethoven's Hair")

And the second movie of the night was the one I've been waiting for since I first heard about it. "My Fuhrer: The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler", is a wacky slapstick comedy about Hitler. Specifically, Hitler near the end of the war. He's supposed to be preparing a New Year's Day speech to inspire the German people to victory, but he's stuck in a depressed nervous breakdown. So Goebbels has a brilliant idea to get him an acting coach. So he finds his old acting coach, Adolf Gruenbaum. It was easy, since he's in a concentration camp all they have to do is track down his number and find out if he's still alive. The idea is a Jewish instructor will inspire Hitler's greatest strength--his rage. Problem is, Gruenbaum's methods work, and Hitler starts opening up to him. Meanwhile, Gruenbaum starts out looking for a chance to kill Hitler, barely fails at first, then decides to not kill him at first because they'd certainly kill him and his family, but eventually because he maybe feels sorry for the bed-wetting, pathetic little twerp whose father beat him. The most fascinating thing for me when watching it was noticing how often just one person would laugh. Everyone is so tense with the subject matter that very rarely can everyone just relax and laugh. For me, it was when Gruenbaum is sent back to his camp, and when Hitler asks for him Goebbels explains that he's unavailable because he went "on holiday with his family". Just the idea of a) a Jew being able to go on holiday in Germany during WWII, and b) someone working closely with Hitler being allowed to go on holiday with a deadline looming in 3 days, and c) the idea that he couldn't postpone his holiday until after the speech, and d) Hitler buys it. That's funny for me. But my favorite scene has to be when Gruenbaum gets Hitler to get down on all fours and bark like a dog as an "exercise". Hitler's dog, "Blondi" runs over and mounts him. At that moment I thought, "dude, I'm watching a dog hump Hitler. I'm the happiest Jew in the world right now".

I wanted to end this post on that point, but I should mention that Hitler was played by Helge Schneider, a famous German comedian (described in the introduction as the equivalent of Steve Martin in Germany). And Guenbaum was played by Ulrich Mühe, who was brilliant in "The Lives of Others" and who tragically died of stomach cancer just two weeks ago. Thank you for you final role, Ulrich!