Monday, May 5, 2008

Jason goes to SFIFF--day 10

First off, allow me to show off what a film fest big wig I am (not that I need a big wig). Here's a shot of one of the slides that plays in all the theaters at the Kabuki between the films:

Check out that name. Oh yeah, they even spelled it right!

All right, enough of that garbage, on to the movies.

First up was the Taiwanese coming of age sweet comedy/drama "Orz Boys". Although it never comes into play in the movie, the title apparently refers to a common Taiwanese internet chat symbol, meaning on is defeated and bowing to your opponent (imagine the "o" is the head and the "z" is the legs. Which I guess makes the "r" the body and arms). But it's not at all about chatrooms, it's about two young boys--little scamps who earn the names "Liar #1" and "Liar #2" for their shenanigans. They're punished to spend the long, hot summer term in the library repairing old books, but that doesn't stop them from tormenting girls, inventing stories about ghosts and statues who get up and go home at the end of the day, or saving up for the coolest toys. Their main goal is to go to the waterpark, where if they go down the big slide 100 times, they'll be transported to the magical world of Orz (shown in some comical animation). The exact details of the narrative aren't as important as the tone, which is unapologetically sweet and funny without being saccharine. And here's a picture of the guy who put it all together, director Gillies Ya-che Yang:

Next up was a Johnnie To film. Johnnie To is best known for his wild action films like "Fulltime Killer" or "Exiled", but his new film, "Linger" is actually a romantic melodramatic ghost story. Of course, he has to start it with star (and Taiwanese pop idol) Vic Zhou dying in a motorcycle accident that is at least partly the fault of his girlfriend (played by beauty Li Binbing). Three years later, he shows up in her bedroom, sporting a deathly pallor and the scars from the accident and subsequent funeral. He scares the crap out of her, but subsequently he puts on his basketball jersey, they settle down for a good talk, and he gets along with the business of quietly and sweetly haunting her. Actually, he's there to make piece with everything he left unresolved in life, especially his father. Meanwhile, she has become a law clerk and is working on the defense of a roguish young man who's very similar to him. He notes it, and actually kind of approves. It's a fun movie with comedy and heart. It's not the action Johnnie To fans are used to, but he's still a steady hand behind the camera in a supernatural melodrama.

Oh, and if you're a fan of Johnnie To action flicks, there's a series starting soon at the Pacific Film Archives.

So after so much melodrama, I could use something really twisted, like Ben Kingsley making out with Mary Kate Olsen. By an amazing coincidence, that's exactly what "The Wackness" delivers, in one "where's the eye bleach?" scene. Thankfully, that's a fairly brief scene (and Mary Kate's cameo is short and actually not very annoying). Ben Kingsley plays Dr. Squires, a psychiatrist treating Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck). They first met in a different professional setting--Luke sold him drugs. Perhaps if I had known more self-loathing drug-addled bitter psychiatrists growing up, I wouldn't have such a deep abiding loathing for their profession today. But I digress, the important thing is that Luke just graduated high school (in New York, in an expertly recreated 1994) and is looking at one last summer before heading off to his safety school and plodding through the rest of his life. Most of his friends are gone, but Stephanie (Olivia Thirby) is still in town. She's hot, she's a client of his (small time pot), and oh yeah, she's Dr. Squire's daughter--make that step-daughter. So when Dr. Squires advises Josh that he just needs to get laid, well...hilarity ensues. A very funny, lively, and touching film about growing up and how sometimes you perpetually fail to do so. Here's director Jonathan Levine talking to festival executive director Graham Leggat:

So I had previously noted that depending on the timing of "Wackness" I either would or would not be able to see another movie before the late show. It was a question of whether "The Wackness" started at 7:00 (as listed on the website and big program guide) or 7:30 (as listed in the mini-guide). Actual start time--7:45. So yeah, only 4 movies for me on Saturday. I'll survive somehow.

So after a few bottles of Stella Artois, the late show was a Spanish sci-fi horror-thriller "Timecrimes". As the title suggests, it's a time travel flick. It took a bit to get going. The first pass through the timeline was interesting for it's use of horror-movie tropes. Most of the second pass was a little obvious for me. But by the third pass, it became really cool and really clever. Hector is hanging out in his backyard, looking at the woods behind his house through binoculars. He spies a girl in the woods. The girl starts disrobing. So he goes to investigate. He finds the girl naked and unconscious. He approaches slowly...and suddenly a sinister figure with a head wrapped in pink bandages leaps out and stabs him with a pair of scissors. He starts running, the pink-bandaged maniac is chasing him. He flees to a big building on top of the hill. A lone scientist is working there in a lab. He agrees to hide Hector in a big vat of white liquid...and then Hector emerges from the vat about an hour and a half earlier. You know, it's a bit much to describe all the details of the plot. Here's a Feynman space-time diagram of the movie (warning, spoilers!!): I have to point out that I sketched this from memory the next day while on a moving BART train. And regular readers no my skills of an artist. So while it's more or less right in the big picture, I won't swear by it's absolute accuracy. Anyone who can do a better job, feel free to e-mail it to me. I'll post the best Feynman diagrams of "Timecrimes" if I get any.

As a physicist and amateur philosopher, I'd like to say a few words about time travel logic and time travel movies. Basically, time travel is logically consistent if you can draw one of these diagrams (Y-axis is time, X-axis is space--three dimensions represented by one). Many purported time-travel movies cannot do this. "Back to the Future" is a fine example--a very entertaining movie, but the time-travel logic is crap. In the "Back to the Future" world, time travel (at least backwards travel) causes a split in the timeline, with the new future possibly bearing no resemblance to the original one (Marty goes back in time, changes the past, goes back to the future, and everything's different). Strictly speaking, that's not time travel. Or to put it more precisely, while you can describe it as time travel, you don't have to. You can describe it as travelling to an alternate universe that happens to share an identical timeline with our universe, until a certain moment. Nothing wrong with that, but then why do events in this alternate world affect the original world. If there's a Marty in the original universe and a Marty in the second universe with an alterred timeline, why would what happens to Marty (or George McFly) in universe #2 have any bearing on universe #1? Again, I'm not saying it's a bad movie, I find it very entertaining. But it doesn't have logically consistent time travel, as evidenced by the fact that you can't draw a consistent space-time diagram of the events. So I just want to applaud "Timecrimes" for getting the logic right. After seeing it, and sketching the above diagram, I thought about starting a project of sketching Feynman diagrams of famous time-travel movies, but became dismayed at how few were possible. "Terminator" (but not T2) is possible, "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" sadly is (but don't even mention their "Bogus Journey"), "Bender's Big Score" works (I think) but that's straight-to-video and TV, not big-screen.

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