Monday, March 3, 2008

Jason Goes to Cinequest--Day 4

All right, I have a full weekend of films to write up. Here's Saturday:

The morning started off with the documentary "Born Without (Nacido Sin)". As in, "born without any arms (and missing a few toes)". Jose Flores is a little person, born without arms, but still adapted to his world. He makes a living playing the harmonica while scraping percussion with his feet. He's also appeared in movies (including Jodorowsky's "Holy Mountain", where he kicks the crap out of Jesus Christ) and is a notorious ladies man. He even has a wife and seven children (all born healthy and normal). It's a fascinating and heartwarming story. At least, it is until very near the end of the movie when they reveal that his wife and mother of his seven children is also his niece. Then I died a little inside, from the gross ickiness.
Then I went to the magnificent California Theater for US premiere of the hit Chinese comedy/drama/thriller "The Case". Dashang runs a guesthouse with his nagging, suspicious wife. One day, he sees a mysterious suitcase floating down the river. He collects it, finds it's very heavy, and hides it in their greenhouse until he can get tools to open it. When he does open it, he discovers blocks of ice. And in those blocks of ice, chopped up body parts--uh oh! But instead of telling his suspicious wife, or the police (which would mean his suspicious brother-in-law), he hides the case and plants the body parts in the flower pots in the greenhouse. What follows is a pitch-black comedy about trust (and lack thereof). Then it gets really, really weird as a mysterious but beautiful woman and her nerdy, carsick husband book a room at the guesthouse. They might be involved with the suitcase somehow. And then the ending gets even weirder, but I won't reveal anything other than the fact that there's a birthday party, continuing the theme of Cinequest 2008.
So, from one fucked-up Chinese film to the next (purely coincidental), it was back to the Camera 12 for "Unfinished Girl". A man falls asleep while driving, and accidentally runs into a little girl on a bike. He rushes her to the hospital, where the doctors find out she suffered no injuries from the accident, but by taking the x-rays they discovered a tumor in her brain. He actually saved her life (if her dad can raise the money for treatment). Even better, he's familiar with the ins and outs of the oncology ward, since his sister-in-law has been treated there for a long time. So an oddly dark opening, but with a hopeful outlook. Well, things unravel when his sister-in-law begins to suspect that he actually murdered her parents a long time ago (before marrying her sister). So, she kidnaps him, ties him to a chair, and tortures the hell out of him. Kind of scary, pretty intense, and a strange commentary on the darkness hiding beneath everyone.

So after a couple of fucked up Chinese films, I was in the mood for something very American. And I got it with "Becoming John Ford". This documentary was commissioned for a "Ford at Fox" boxset. I know John Ford's work somewhat from his John Wayne movies, but this is about Ford before that time, when he was a prolific workmanlike director for 20th Century Fox studios (actually, just at the time when Fox merged with 20th Century). Besides being a legendary drunk and a real ornery sonofabitch, he's also arguably the greatest overlooked American director ever. This is a fascinating look at a period that most casual cinephiles (myself included) don't know much about, although there are some famous movies included in this film ("Grapes of Wrath", "How Green Was My Valley"). In the panel discussion afterwards, one point that was made is that a documentary really can't fully educate you, at best it can make you curious to learn more. Considering I purchased the "Ford at Fox" boxset right there from my cellphone, I would deem this a rousing success. Here's a pic of director Nick Redman with the panel discussing John Ford:

Next up was a Serbian comedy/drama "The Reject". At least, I hope there was some comedy intended there, because I had a few laughs. Svetozar Cvetkovic (from last year's "Awakening from the Dead") produces and stars as a Serbian businessman with expensive tastes and an expensive gambling habit. When he's fired, his addiction to luxury is in jeopardy. And to make things worse, his night of losses at the local casino ends with him being attacked by mysterious people (or spirits, or demons?) dressed all in black. But then he stumbles on a stash of money, and suddenly can pay off all his debts and get nice things for his friends (and get his mother good treatment in her nursing home). This movie is chock-full of symbols and very much a reaction to life in Serbia (and a continuation of themes from "Awakening from the Dead"). In this case, the title is telling, in that he's a reject from society, but also finds a form of salvation in rejecting the destructive values that have led to Serbia being such a fucked-up place. Brutal and haunting, with another amazing performance by the fearless Svetozar Cvetkovic. And here's a picture of him at the Q&A, where he revealed that this along with "Awakening from the Dead" forms two-thirds of a planned thematic/symbolic trilogy:

Then, I wandered over to the Hotel DeAnza for the "Around the Bay" world premiere after party. I've reviewed a screener of "Around the Bay" earlier, and although I missed their big-screen premiere, I wanted to catch up with them. Especially, I wanted to try the "Around the Bay" cocktail--Hypnotiq + a splash of Scotch, shaken over ice and garnished with orange (or was it lemon? I forget) peel. And especially especially I wanted to congratulate star Connor Maselli (and the other people involved, but especially Connor). Here he is enjoying the party (but of course, not the cocktails):

And finally, it was back to the theater for the last film of the night, the substitute for "Paranormal Activity" (which I saw at Indiefest). The substitute was "The Substitute" (got that?) It's a Danish horror/comedy about an alien race that knows only war, not love. Love, of course, is the strongest force in the universe, so they want to conquer earth and steal this "love". So one of them travels to earth, and poses as a substitute teacher in a plot to take over the world. The kids can tell there's something wrong, but of course she has the parents fooled, and wacky, earth-saving hijinx ensue. I've been told this is kind of a rip-off of some American movie of a few years ago which I haven't seen. But I don't care, I just liked this movie. It was fun, and that's it.
And that's it for last Saturday at Cinequest.

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