Thursday, November 27, 2008

Jason watches "Repo! The Genetic Opera"

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Last night I went to the fabulous Parkway Theater, the original Oakland speakeasy theater where you can get a pitcher of beer and a pizza (or nachos, sammiches, etc) to enjoy during the movie. And this was a movie that goes very well with beer.

It's very, very difficult to intentionally make a cult classic film. Cult film fans can tell when you're pandering to them, and they don't respect it. In fact, most cult classics are films that are so far out there that you can't imagine the filmmakers thinking about an audience at all--they make the film for themselves and if a cult finds it, good for them.

With that said, "Repo! The Genetic Opera" is still perfectly primed to become a cult classic (and judging by the members of the N. Cal Repo Army singing along last night, it already is). Sometime in the near future, organ failures have become an epidemic. In steps Geneco, the corporate answer for organ transplants. You can even finance your transplant at a reasonable rate. However, if you can't keep up the payments they send in a Repo Man to take back their property (organs with ubiquitous bar codes, gotta love it). There's also a powerful (and powerfully addictive) painkiller harvested from corpses. And the founder of Geneco, Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino) has a terminal disease. Problem is his two sons (Bill Mosely and Nivek Ogre of Skinny Puppy) are either obnoxious or hideous, and his daughter (played by Paris Hilton) is a total skank (big stretch for her, but I actually have more respect after her self-mocking role). There's a battle for his inheritance, and there's a love triangle from 17 years back, with murder, revenge, and a poor imprisoned daughter who might just be the perfect heir (and her father, Anthony Head, as the ultimate secret Repo Man). There's also Blind Mag, the voice of Geneco and recipient of their first eye transplant. And as if the plot wasn't operatic enough, it's an actual opera, so it's all sung. And it's directed Darren Lynn Bousman who also directed Saws II through IV, so you know the set design is appropriately gory and creepy. But it moves along at comic-book pace (in fact, with comic book intertitles to move it along faster) so that the gore is presented as comedy more than horror. Think a sensibility more akin to Peter Jackson's "Braindead" (or "Dead Alive" as the US version is called) than any of the Saw movies.

So yeah, it was perfect to watch while drinking beer, but I assume I would've enjoyed it sober, too ('cuz I'm that kinda guy). So maybe it doesn't have a beerequisite, but there's certainly beer-hancement to be had.

Oh, and if I happen to have any readers who live in the Anchorage area and have nothing to do after say, the end of this month, "Repo!" will be playing at the Anchorage Film Festival. It plays December 6 at 10:15 at the Bear Tooth Theater. Coincidentally, that's another theater where you can get beer and pizza during the movie. I think this film has found it's type of venue.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum to see "Election Day", "Pass the Gravy", and "The Lost Express"

Another Saturday night, another good time at the Niles Film Museum.

The night started with a couple of Hal Roach shorts. First up was Our Gang in "Election Day". Apropos to recent history (or to show how far we've gone), it's election day and the kids are bullying Farina (the black kid) not to go to town until election day is over. Never mind the logic that kids can't vote, there's a pretty clear racial element to it--suppress the black vote. Trouble is, Farina and his sister need to deliver the laundry to their customers. So they come up with wacky schemes and costumes, scare the crap out of a bunch of people, and end up breaking up a gangland plot to steal the election.

Of course, election day is history, but Thanksgiving is coming up. So in a Niles Film Museum tradition, they played the hilarious Max Davidson short "Pass the Gravy". Max plays the head of a household. His neighbor Schultz is a chicken farmer with a prize winning rooster Brigham (a poke at Mormon leader and infamous polygamist Brigham Young). Max's daughter and Shultz's son are engaged, and so Max sends his son Ignatz to get a chicken for a feast. But Ignatz pockets the $2 and grabs whatever chicken he can find running around...and you can guess which one he grabs. One of the funniest things I've ever seen.

Then an intermission, and then Helen Holmes in "The Lost Express" (with her great-granddaughter in attendance). Helen Holmes was a famous actress/stuntwoman who starred in the "Hazards of Helen" series (a competitor of the more famous "Perils of Pauline"). This is a few years after her height of fame, and not a "Hazards of Helen" movie. But it is an exciting railroad action flick, based around a millionaire named Morgan inheritance. He doesn't like his son-in-law Arthur Standish, so he cut him out of his will, bestowing his inheritance on his granddaughter Alice, who's travelling to meet him by train (he's on his own train). However, the Standish tracks her down and tries to steal her back. Meanwhile robbers hijack Morgan's train, Morgan's daughter (Standish's wife) and her brother are travelling to find Morgan and convince him to reconsider. And finally, Helen Holmes appears as a railroad employee who tracks down the robbers and (along with everyone else) saves the day using her trademark jumps onto trains (Holmes did most of her own stunts). Pretty cool.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Jason goes to the last night of the SVJFF--Nov 19, 2008

So I didn't go all-out at the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival like I have in previous years, but I still caught five movies there, and had a good time. One last movie last Wednesday, a drama of orthodoxy, rabbinical studies, and lesbianism--"The Secrets".

Naomi is the daughter of a famous rabbi, and an excellent student. She's arranged to be married, but begs her father to study for a year in an all-girls seminary first (which is frivolous, since women can't become rabbis, but she always loved studying so much). There she meets Michelle, a french student who's a bit of a rebel. As part of their duties, they bring groceries to a secretive shut-in woman named Anouk. Anouk is very sick, and can barely walk. But Naomi has been secretly studying Kabala (the seminary is in Safed, which was an ancient Kabalistic city), and devises a cleansing ritual for Anouk. All they have to do is sneak into the (male only) baths after hours. During this ritual they have to bathe naked together, and that awakens a little something in Naomi and Michelle. Okay, this will always be pitched as a "lesbian" movie but really the lesbianism is very brief and handled very sensitively. It's more a movie about overcoming fears and being true to yourself and to your faith. From that point of view it's a very well made, and extremely well acted movie. The story is sort of slow ("deliberate" is the polite word), and the ending is a bit ambiguous. I'd give it high marks for production design, very high marks for acting, and middling marks for story.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Jason goes to the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival--Nov 16

I only had time to fit in one movie yesterday, but it was a good one. "I Have Never Forgotten You" is the definitive documentary of the life and legacy of Simon Wiesenthal.

Wiesenthal was, of course, best known as the world's biggest "Nazi Hunter", and the center that bears his name created the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles (it also produced this film through Moriah Films). I learned about Simon Wiesenthal mostly in the 80's and 90's, when he was an old man receiving many awards for a life of great work. But I had never really heard his whole story. I knew he was a Holocaust survivor. I didn't know he was an architect (the two of his buildings that still survive are shown in the film). I didn't know about how he became a Nazi hunter, working with the American officers investigating war crimes. I didn't know about how his testimony was invaluable because he took such detailed notes (and drew pictures of it all). I didn't know how after the American office closed, he opened his own office. I didn't know about his struggles to keep his office open, I'd figured who wouldn't fund an office of Nazi hunters? I didn't know how he struggled in anonymity until the famous arrest of Adolf Eichmann. I especially didn't know (and was disturbed by) how he was a controversial character in Vienna, Austria, where he settled with his wife (who also miraculously survived the Holocaust) and opened his office. Politicians vilified him (even to the point where a Jewish politician questioned how he could've survived the Holocaust, implying he might've been a conspirator), and alternatively he got in trouble for not attacking a politician who had been a low level Nazi foot soldier but not a war criminal. The most illuminating point was that Nazi-hunting was not widely respected or revered. When the majority wanted to forget, he refused to. And it was decades of struggle before he was widely recognized as a hero. Well, after watching this I will never forget him.

After the film, we had a discussion with a pair of special guests. The producer/director Richard Trank and local businessman Jack Tramiel, who survived the Holocaust, moved to America, learned to fix typewriters, and eventually founded Commodore Computers and now is the majority owner of Atari. Here are Jack and Richard talking with the audience:

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for Comedy Shorts Night

Always the most popular night of the month at the Edison Theater. But tonight it was bittersweet, as Niles Film Museum board member and emcee Tommy Andrew passed away over the last week. I've only started going to the Niles Film Museum this year, so I didn't have a chance to get to know Tommy very well. But one thing I noticed about him right away is he always liked a good joke. Or a bad joke (like the one about the Olympic athlete who was so excited to win a gold medal he went out and had it bronzed). So on the one hand it seems appropriate to remember him with a comedy night. On the other hand, it seems like such a shame that if he held on just a few more days he could've seen one more comedy night.

Anyway, enough of remembering Tommy, lets get to the movies, starting with a little Chaplin in "The Adventurer". Chaplin is an escaped convict running from the police. After a wacky chase, he ends up in the water where he rescues a beautiful lady (Chaplin's longtime leading lady Edna Purviance), her mother (Marta Golden), and her suitor (common Chaplin heavy, the gigantic Eric Campbell. They take him into their home, not knowing he's a wanted criminal, and a lot more wacky hijinx ensue during a fancy party.

Next up was Buster Keaton in "Convict 13". Keaton is an inept golfer who knocks himself out with a ricochet ball. An escaped convict sees him lying there and switches clothes with him. The police chase Keaton, ending with him in jail first as a prisoner, then a guard, then assistant warden (obviously it took an extreme series of wacky hijinx to pull off that transition).

Then an intermission, and then back with Keaton and Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle in "Coney Island" (shot on location in Coney Island). Fatty's trying to escape from his wife and pick up another girl. Keaton is one of his rivals (specifically, the one with no money). By the way, this is so early in Keaton's career that (according to IMDb) he was uncredited in the role (and the role of the mustachioed policeman). But not only that, this was so early that "The Great Stone Face" actually cracked a smile and laughed. That was a little freaky. Oh, by the way, at various moments people end up in jail--because that's the theme of the night.

And then "The Second Hundred Years" starts with Laurel and Hardy in (surprise) jail! They escape, and the first thing they do is steal clothes from a pair of visiting dignitaries. Those dignitaries happen to be visiting french policemen, who are there to visit the prison. So after some high society hijinx, they end up right back in prison.

And finally, one last movie was added in honor of Tommy Andrew. I didn't know that Tommy was an avid roller skater, both a professional in his younger days and a volunteer and a judge in his later day. In honor of that, they played Charlie Chaplin's "The Rink". Charlie's a waiter, but passes himself off as Sir Cecil Seltzer (C.O.D.), and causes quite a bit of havoc in a roller skating rink--almost as much havoc as he creates in the restaurant. The leading lady is once again Edna Purviance and the heavy again is Eric Campbell.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Jason watches "Quantum of Solace"

I'm still getting used to this "gritty" James Bond, even though I really liked "Casino Royale". Daniel Craig is a great actor, and does fine work here, but the movie felt flat. You have to remember and care what happened in the last movie for much of this to make sense. There's a lot about trust between Bond and M. And a plot about water supply that was neither a surprise nor really resolved--I expect it to continue in the next movie, so I'll have to try not to forget what happened here. Unfortunately, that might be kind of difficult.

Also, along with the "gritty" look the Bond franchise has officially fallen pray to the "shaky-cam" action scene cliche. I miss action movies where you could actually follow the action. A good filmmaker can convey that a scene is exciting without shaking the camera around like a drunk baboon.

Jason watches "Changeling"

And it's a big meaty slice of Oscar-bait, including a reference to the Academy Awards of 1935. And if there's one man I'd pay to Oscar-bait in front of me, it's Clint Eastwood. Still, this is not his best work. It's just so over-the-top emotional Lifetime movie material blown up on the big screen. Sure, it's based on a true story, but somehow it still doesn't seem realistic. Mostly because the mannerisms of 1930's Los Angeles seem unreal. And also because Angelina Jolie still can't act. She's pretty and all, and makes a valiant effort here, but lost whatever she had when she won the award for best supporting actress in "Girl, Interrupted".

Or maybe I'm just jaded. They say actresses win awards for crying and actors win awards for not crying. She does both at various times, so maybe she's a shoe-in. Or maybe it looks so much like asking for an award that she and the whole movie come off as desperate. Anyway, John Malkovich was cool as the radio preacher/anti-corruption crusader who takes up her cause. Oh yeah, I guess I should mention the plot. Angelina Jolie's son is kidnapped, the police bring her one who looks kind of like him, and throw her in the psycho ward when she insists he's not her son. Again, based on a true story.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Jason watches "Max Payne"

Dude, I've got this great idea for a movie--a good cop is haunted by the murder of his wife and baby, and searches for the killer even as his career has suffered! Wait, there's more--there's a super-soldier serum! But wait, there's more! The super-serum is flawed, so that while it makes the villain nigh-invulnerable, it makes 99% of the users insane! Plus, it was created by a corrupt corporation that tried to cover up its existence! Ummm...there's some junior high level Norse mythology? The hero's name is a pun? It's based on a video game? Is there anything that would make you want to see this movie?

I snuck into this movie after "Rock n Rolla", and I still want my money back. Add this to the list of lines I never thought I'd type: "Mark Wahlberg, this is beneath you".

Jason watches "Rock n Rolla"

I never saw "Swept Away", I'll take the world's word that it sucked. Given that, Guy Ritchie seems to be the definition of a one-trick pony. His trick--needlessly showy, needlessly complicated, nonsensical gangster flicks. And when it comes to that kind of movie...this is one of them. There's over-the-top style, pace, humor, and characters that are interchangeable with anyone in "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels" or "Snatch". In fact, the only thing I can think of that distinguishes this movie from his previous efforts is that the ending promises a sequel ("The Real Rock n Rolla"). Too bad his shtick is so tired I don't care.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Jason goes to the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival--Nov 9

Formerly called the San Jose Jewish Film Festival, it's expanded. I've missed the first half because I was at Docfest, but I'm there for the last two weekends.

Last Sunday I saw three shows (the fourth one scheduled was one I'd already seen at the SF Jewish Film Festival). First up was the family program "Sixty Six", based on "true-ish" story. Bernie Reubens is an unathletic little nerd, picked for sports after the kid with polio. His brother is a bit of a bully, and he's doomed to a life of miserable anonymity. Then he learns about the Bar Mitzvah--the day you become a man and when all your friends and relatives throw a big party where you're the center of attention. So he throws all his effort into planning the greatest Bar Mitzvah--nay, the greatest party of any kind--ever! And things are going along okay, despite some financial setbacks from his dad. That is, until he finds out that his Bar Mitzvah is scheduled the exact same day as the World Cup Finals. Oh yeah, the title comes from the year--1966, when the World Cup was held in England. Oh yeah, the movie's British. So yeah, everyone is nuts about the English team--heavy underdogs, but they're playing at home. So if England makes the finals, no one will be at his party. So he throws himself into becoming the ultimate football (soccer, for us Americans) expert, and is the only Englishman cheering against England. Well, if you're at all a soccer fan (or know how to look stuff up online), you know how it ends. But the trip there is a funny story of finally learning to grow the hell up, even if it's a bloody miserable experience.

The next show started with a short, "A Trip to Prague". Neil Needleman tells the story of how he goes to visit Prague after his parents die (they loved Prague). He meets a nice couple who tells him "You know what a good Jewish boy like you needs? A good Jewish girl!" Too bad he's not into girls....

Then the haunting historical epic "Villa Jasmine", about a young Jewish man named Serge travels to Tunisia with his pregnant wife. His father (also named Serge) lived and died in Tunisia, in a home he dubbed "Villa Jasmine". He was a newspaper writer and a communist organizer (decrying at night with a pen name what he celebrated in the social column during the day). As a young man in Tunisia in the 1920's he was a well-known part of the Jewish community, and life was good. But the 20's became the 30's, and that became a time when it was not good to be a Jew. Tunisia was a French colony, and soon became a Vichy French colony, and soon became a Nazi stronghold in North Africa. The movie glides back and forth from modern day with Serge the son looking for stories of his father and Serge the father speaking up for his Tunisia. Parallel love stories develop as young Serge all but ignores his wife in his obsessive quest, the same way his father did for his cause. It took me a little while to get into the story and understand what the movie was doing, but it was ultimately rewarding.

The theme of the day--and I suppose a theme of a great deal of Jewish film, as well as film in general--was family, specifically how your dysfunctional family messes you the hell up. And in no movie was that more clear than the hilarious, "My Mexican Shiva". Moishe Tartakovsky dies of a heart attack, and all his family and friends gather for the traditional 7 days of mourning and remembrance. And that's when we learn how messed up they all are, starting with his gentile mistress. His daughter is so stressed out she flips out over a loose tooth. His grandson returns from Israel as a devout Jewish scholar, but is picked up for an outstanding drug rap. Meanwhile his granddaughter has a crush on the grandson (her cousin) and flirts with him. His son is looking for a doctor for a rather delicate favor. And the guy giving the toast feels like the family is treating him criminally (for getting distracted and never letting him finish the toast). And then there's some craziness. Over all of it, the angels Aleph and Bet watch and count his good qualities (light angels) and bad qualities (dark angels), kind of like a Greek chorus. Hilarious and all over the place, but it somehow all ties together in a funny little package. And an interesting look at Judaism in Mexico (and the Catholic maids who don't understand what the heck is going on).

Jason celebrates Baby Peggy's 90th Birthday

This weekend the Niles Silent Film Museum hosted a birthday party for the original child star (and pre-cursor to stars such as Shirley Temple), Baby Peggy--now known as Diana Sera Carey (and the writer of many Hollywood histories, including her own autobiography).

Here's the 90-year young Diana Carey, still spry, still beautiful, still very funny, and still with dimples when she smiles:

Yesterday there were three programs of her movies. First up in the morning program was a documentary "Baby Peggy in the Vaults", made for her 90th birthday party (and, BTW, they were still shooting the documentary at her party, as well as new silent film footage. So yours truly is a silent film extra!) Fascinating look at film preservation in a vault in the Netherlands. A strange thing about silent film preservation, often Europe was the end of the line for silent distribution, and the films stayed there because either the studios didn't want them back or the exhibitors in Europe didn't care to ship them back. Luckily, Europeans were typically much better at storing and archiving the films, so a good many of the films I saw yesterday were intertitled in Danish, or Czech, or French and German. And translating 1920's American slang into Czech and back into modern American English is pretty tough, so we had some interesting translations. Anyway, it was fascinating to watch footage from the original stored nitrate prints. And every time the nitrate broke, my heart froze up for a second.

Then we saw a couple Baby Peggy shorts, "Circus Clowns" and "A Muddy Bride". "Circus Clowns" was missing the beginning, where Peggy was apparently kidnapped and forced to work in the Circus with her trained dog Brownie (a common co-star of hers). "A Muddy Bride" was missing even more, but what was there was still pretty funny.

Then a break for lunch, and then the afternoon program, starting with the short "Miles of Smiles". It starts with twin babies, one sneaks off and is almost run over by a train. The train conductor adopts her, and in a few years she becomes Baby Peggy and is taught to drive a train (a lot of the Baby Peggy humor is based on her doing adult things). However, she gets mistaken for her twin, and wacky hijinx ensue (with some pretty cool trick photography to allow Peggy to play both twin parts).

Oh yeah, did I mention that Diana Carey herself introduced each movie and told funny stories about it? Well, she did.

Then the afternoon feature was "Helen's Babies", which is famous for being one of Clara Bow's earliest works. And Carey had funny stories about how Clara was making so many other movies and didn't really know what she was doing so she'd come in with different colored hair every day. Anyway, Peggy plays the youngest of two girls. Their uncle Harry (played by Edward Everett Horton) is a famous child psychologist who has written a book on child-rearing that their parents live by. Funny how he can know so much, being a bachelor who has never spent any time with children. So when he comes for a rest at their place, the parents decide it's safe for them to take a little vacation and leave the girls in his care. Oops! Clara Bow is the neighbor, and love interest for Uncle Harry. Very, very funny.

And then another break, go get dinner, run some errands, and then back for the evening show. Oh, but first I bought her autobiography Whatever Happened to Baby Peggy? and got her to sign it. Cool!

First short of the evening was "Peg 'O the Mounted". Shot in Yosemite (standing in for Canada), she's in camp when a Mountie comes in badly wounded. Seems he's overcome by the fumes as he was chasing some moonshiners. Well, Peggy's daddy made her a little Mountie uniform, so she puts it on, runs off, and catches the moonshiners herself. By the way, I should mention how many gags in all her movies involve her (obviously a dummy model) being thrown around. Nowadays, these scenes get a gasp and then a chuckle. I assume violence against babies used to be much, much funnier.

Next up was a truly bizarre short (possibly missing half the footage, or maybe just a bizarre movie). "Carmen, Jr." is sort of a children's version of the opera Carmen. In that it has the characters--the toreador, the beautiful lady, etc. And it has the beautiful costumes. But it doesn't have the story. The story is that Baby Peggy is a tough, butch girl who beats up the boys. Then she decides to be a beautiful lady and enter into romance. She dances a tango, then passes out and dreams she's a bullfighter. That captures pretty much all the characters, and none of the story. And it was hilarious (especially the bullfight scene)!

And the final short was "The Kid Reporter". Peggy is the secretary to a mean editor at a newspaper. A woman comes in with a story of a stolen pearl necklace. The editor offers a reward to the first reporter who solves the case--he will be made chief editor. Peggy's just a little girl, but if she dresses up as a man (complete with mustache and monocle--which is hard to keep on while being thrown upside-down) she can crack the case. Not just a funny movie, but a sly take on women's lib (that what's keeping her down isn't that she's 4 years old, it's that she's a girl).

Then we took a brief intermission to sing Happy Birthday to her and eat some birthday cake. That's right, a day full of movies--and cake! What could be better?

And finally, the feature was the heartwarming story of "Captain January" (remade a decade later by Shirley Temple). Peggy plays the title character, the ward of the old lighthouse keeper Daddy Judkins. She washed up from a storm 5 years ago, and has been the light of his life (and an able and strong helper) ever since. Busybodies in town think that's no way for a girl to grow up, and want to take her away to an orphanage. They fight them, with the help of the town preacher, who is a decent, honorable, and honest man. But when a yacht runs aground and a passenger recognizes Peggy as her niece, she's taken away to live in a Boston mansion. Both her and Judkins are heartbroken, so she sneaks away to come back to him. A beautiful, charming tearjerker.

And then more cake. And that was the end.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Jason looks at all the movie events happening around the Bay Area

And then his head explodes.

So now that Docfest is finally over, I thought I'd look and see what movies to watch this weekend. Maybe catch a few general release movies, but also check out what's going on in film fests.

Well, both the American Indian Film Festival and the Latino Film Festival opened today (Friday). I've wanted to go to the AIFF for several years. Maybe I'll make it up a night or two next week, but I can't this weekend. I finally made it to some of the Latino Film Festival last year (when it came down to San Jose). Hopefully I'll make a little more of it this year. But I do want to tell all of my readers to go see my favorite movie of the year. Sunday night, 8:30 at the Brava Theater is "La Antena (The Aerial)", which I saw at Cinequest (scroll to the bottom of the page) and is brilliant.

Right in my backyard, the Niles Silent Film Museum is holding a 90th Birthday Bash for Baby Peggy. That's all day Saturday and a matinee show on Sunday. I'm planning on doing that Saturday.

Then I've already missed half of the Silicon Valley (formerly San Jose) Jewish Film Festival. But I plan to make up for that by seeing a few films on Sunday and maybe a couple more next weekend.

I'm sure I've missed some. I haven't even looked at the new schedule for the PFA. And I still have general release movies I want to see. And I might just want to get some rest. I remember what rest feels like.

Anyway, happy movie watching and good night!

Jason watches "Christmas on Mars"

And it's weird, really weird. Existential doubt, a magical green man, lots of vaginal symbols, created by The Flaming Lips. Things are falling apart, so Major Syrtis decides to hold a Christmas pageant. And then things just get worse. Psychosis, suicides, malfunctions, etc. Fred Armisen singing "Silent Night".

I propose a new contest. Go on IMDb and find the movie with the strangest pair of recommendations. "Christmas on Mars" gives you "Elf" and "Eraserhead". Beat that. Ummm...I have nothing to give away. So whoever wins thousand Internet points?

Jason watches "Zack and Miri Make a Porno"

Two words: Fucking funny.

Jason has a magic suit that makes him immune to radiation!

You know what the difference is between me and you? I make this look good:

This suit is made out of Demron, which as near as I can tell is a complicated mix of science (they use words like "polymer" and "nano") and magic (they won't publish the specs_. But it's been tested by the military, so it must be good!
The goggles and gloves are 0.5 mm Pb equivalent. That's good. Not shown are the neck and gonad shields, since their still on order. It's sort of flattering to know that someone, somewhere, is specially constructing a product to protect my balls.

Jason goes to the final night of Docfest

Finally. This really was the festival that never ended. But when it did, it ended on a really good note.

First up was the short "With a Stroke of the Chaveta". A chaveta is the knife used in cigar making to cut the tobacco leaf. But this movie is only partly about cigar rollers. Really, it's about a profession I've never heard of--professional reader (or "lectora"). Dating back over a century ago, the cigar rolling houses would have rows and rows of tables where workers roll cigars. And they'd have one person sitting above them and reading to them. Classic literature, novels, newspapers, whatever. This was standard from Cuba to New York. Now, it's really only done in Cuba, but they are holding on tightly to this tradition. The movie interviews a handful of readers and the cigar makers, who talk about the democratic process they use to select a reader and the reading material. Very interesting.

And finally, the last feature I saw at Docfest was "The Rich Have Their Own Photographers". For the rest of us, we have Milton Rogovin. Milton was an optometrist in Buffalo, NY. He was also a radical organizer in the 40's and 50's, and the HUAC fingered him as "the top red in Buffalo". He was blacklisted and his optometry business folded. His wife Annie supported them as a teacher (she passed away recently, but had won awards for pioneering work in sepcial education techniques), and he took up photography. There's a balance in his work of art and social documentary. He started with social documentary photography, capturing the poor people of Buffalo's lower west side (In a series which he just called lower west side, making it Every City, U. S. A.). He photographed the working class, especially miners. There's a brilliant series he did of miners at work and then at home, showing the contrast between work and home life, and also showing why they worked as hard as they did. There's an amazing quality to his photographs, one that's best shown than described. My favorite is the little angry looking girl in Appalachia (third row down, second from the right). I can't really express why it moves me so much. I think there's a mix of poverty and dignity, pride despite hard times, a bent but not broken spirit. There are quite a few interviews in the film, but for the most part they let Rogovin and his photographs speak for themselves. Rogovin is probably the best at explaining and describing why he took the pictures, so most of the interview time is spent on him. BTW, Rogovin is still alive (but not working), and looking forward to his 99th birthday next month.

And here's a really lousy, unlit cell-phone snapshot of director Ezra Bookstein:

And that was Docfest, 2008.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 17

Or at least Day some big number.  The important thing is I saw another pile of movies last Sunday, and I have one more day of the festival to go (one final movie Thursday night).  Let's go.

The day started with a short film, "Peter and Ben" about a lonely farmer living in a remote valley in Wales, and the little sheep he loves.  But not that way...get your mind out of the freakin' gutter!  Actually, it's really sweet.

Then the feature, "The Linguists", about a pair of linguists who travel the world recording a few of the thousands of nearly extinct languages left.  It's as much an anthropological story as a story of language, and it plays out as a weird sort of race-against-time action movie.  They travel to Siberia to find Chulym speakers (in one weird scene, a Chulym curse word is actually bleeped out, which I thought was hilarious).  They travel to a boarding school in India.  Typically boarding schools are death camps for native languages--native speakers are forced to speak a common language (in this case either Hindi or English).  But they arrive and document the languages the students speak at home.  They travel to Bolivia and actually record for the first time ever Kallawaya, a language that has lived with just dozens of speakers for generations.  The speakers are all healers, and the language is key to their native medicine (and conversely the medicine could also be responsible for keeping their language alive).  Even in the U.S., they interview a man in the Southwest who may be the last speaker of his native American language.  You might not think there's anything interesting about obscure foreign languages, but this movie will prove you wrong.  And I'm saying that as someone who's been frustrated with foreign languages and has no facility for picking it up.

Okay, I've said this many times in this festival, but next up was possibly the weirdest movie in Docfest.  "In a Dream" is the life and art of Isaiah Zagar, a mosaic artist who has documented his life and love of his wife and family for decades on the walls of his South Philly neighborhood.  He's a narcissist, a nut, a great artist, a cheat, a victim of childhood sexual abuse, and a loving father.  In fact, it was his son Jeremiah--at the urging of Julia Zagar (Isaiah's wife and Jeremiah's mother)--who made this movie.  It's a portrait of a brilliant, tortured workaholic, who managed to forge a monument to his life and love.  A life that comes crashing down when he confesses to an affair with his assistant.  This is made even worse by the fact that his other son Ezekial has come home to live (and get off of a drug addiction) after divorcing his wife.  Suddenly the testament to a great but odd family turns into a document of a family dissolving in front of our eyes.  But in all of's still absolutely beautiful, for which credit should be shared by both Isaiah for his art and Jeremiah for his filmmaking.  Very, very strange.

Next up was "Dear Zachary".  I saw it at Cinequest, and it was very traumatic there.  Still traumatic.  In fact, not only can I not write about it again, I can't even re-read my previous review.  However, this did remind me to write a letter both to the Canadian justice minister (regarding bail reform) and to my senators (regarding extradition protocols with Canada).  I'll do that...soon.

Then there was a locally made movie about ethnic minority girls growing up in the East Bay.  "Going on 13" stars 4 girls from the age of 8-9 to 13.  Ariana is African American, and goes from wanting to be a basketball to wanting to be a lawyer (after the movie, she's moved on to wanting to be a teacher).  Esmerelda is Mexican-American.  A good student, and the first girl to have a secret boyfriend.  Isha is Indian, and returns to India every summer to visit family.  She's in a very traditional family, and respects that as much as she can, although she also gets drawn into American culture and posts on Internet chat rooms as "ghetto girl" or "cutie pie".  And finally, Rosie is a mixed race Latina (Anglo-American mother with Nicaraguan father).  She might be the smartest of the four (has nearly straight A's, likes to read books), but also might have the most difficult home life (mother suffers from PTSD).  But I shouldn't imply that the other girls aren't smart (frankly, I'm not even sure Rosie is the best student, or that such a comparison is meaningful).  They're all good students, they all have pretty ordinary problems both at home and at school.  But they're all handling it in their own way with their own source of strength.  This isn't a movie about how difficult it is growing up minority.  Or growing up more lower-middle class, or growing up in East SF Bay (where some neighborhoods are tough, but most really are okay).  Rather, it's an antidote to those stereotypical stories.  These are young girls making their way through real life.  And it's refreshing.  Here's a pic of directors Dawn Valadez and Kristy Guevera-Flanagan, with Isha in the background.

And here's another pic with (from left to right) Kristy, Isha, her mother, Ariana, and her mother:

And, by the way, this was my 365th feature-length movie program in theaters this year.  For the second year in a row, I've topped a movie a day for the full year.


And that is that.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Jason has a birthday Shocktoberfest at the Hypnodrome

It's that time of year for the Thrillpeddlers big Grand Guignol show, Shocktoberfest!  And this year, I chose to see it on my birthday (Halloween), with as many of my friends who could make it.  So thank you Cynthia, Ira, Alan, Keith, Gerry, and everyone else there!  

The show runs through Nov 22, and it's a good one.  So all my SF Bay readers, check it out.

For those of you who don't know what Grand Guignol is...go learn about it here.  But, in a nutshell, it was a small theater in Paris, now a style of theater specializing in gory special effects and appealing to the baser instincts of mankind.  A typical evening is a series of short plays, some funny (often sex farces), and some scary (and very bloody).  

Oh yeah, and you can get a beer or wine there to help calm your nerves (or just make everything more fun)

The show started with "A Difficult Passage", a tale of danger and sadism in the frozen Yukon.  A group of Yale chums (Bonesmen both, named Bush and Prescott) are on their way to a mining camp where they're promised office jobs (family connections, of course).  But they've fallen into a hole, they're starving, and they've eaten the last of their sled dogs.  If only a Royal Canadian Mounted Police would save them.  Yes..."save" them....

Next was the comedy "A Slight Tingling" (which I had seen them perform before, but is still funny).  A sci-fi blood comedy based on the single line synopsis "Dr. Verdier has lost his scissors, and brings his last three patients back to try to find them."  Add a little imagination, a little wicked humor, and some magnetism, and a good time is had by all--even the confused transsexual.

Then it was intermission, allowing me to drain a little beer from my bladder, pour a little more beer down my throat, and do one of my favoritest things--help lead a sing-along to "Bohemian Rhapsody" on the player piano.  Woo hoo!

And then they even played Happy Birthday to me on the player piano.

And finally, the last play and the big, scary dramatic finish was "The Kindest Thing".  Set in the French embassy in China during the Boxer Rebellion.  The few remaining soldiers keep watch as cannons fire all about.  The ambassador keeps a brave face for his daughter, as the soldiers whisper about how if things get desperate they should kill her--it'd be the kindest thing, compared to the rumors they've heard of what the Chinese would do to her.  Particularly powerful in the staging is how the scene is facing the audience, implicating us in the horrors they witness.  And it all ends with lights out, glow-in-the-dark scares.  Lots of fun.

And finally, let me just give my congratulations to Thrillpeddler masters Russell Blackwood and James Toczyl on getting married last Saturday!  

And in my one act of political advocacy in this blog for this election season, I want to urge all my California readers to go out and vote No on 8 tomorrow!

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 16

I think it's day 16, I've lost count.  The important thing is I skipped Friday (so I could party at the Hypnodrome with my friends) and was back for a couple of movies on Saturday.

The first film I saw was "Chasing the Devil", an exposé into the world of the ex-gay movement.  Reparative therapy..."curing" homosexuality...whatever they call it.  The film explores--in as balanced a manner as possible--the different organizations and programs that claim they can cure gayness.  The most famous and controversial being Richard Cohen, who is really taken to task and shown contradicting himself over and over again (comparatively, everyone else gets off lightly).  Sometimes it seems silly (can you really cure homosexuality by singing show tunes and just changing the lyrics?), sometimes scary.  I say it's as balanced as possible, but it's impossible to go into this movie without your own personal or political biases.  So to me, it showed how ridiculous and misguided these programs are (some more than others, but all misguided).  And it interviews several people who would back up my point.  I suppose for others their experience might vary.  I will allow that it interviews multiple people who claim to be cured (or at least no longer practicing homosexuals, some of them still won't use the word "cured"), and they claim to be happier in their lives now.  As I say, people will find whatever evidence they want to find in this movie. 

Once again, the only direct political advocacy this election cycle on this blog (and then only on the night before the election)--CA readers, vote NO on 8.

So the next show started with a short about 'the hair down there.'  "Why We Wax" is a painfully funny movie.  Ya know, I can laugh at women torturing themselves to try and look appealing as much as any man does (and oh yes, we laugh).  But when infection sets in and the pronunciation of "pussy" changes, that's gone a little too far.  Gross.

Speaking of going too far, the feature "I Think We're Alone Now" is about...believe it or not...guys who are obsessed with 80's pop start Tiffany.  Jeff Turner of Santa Cruz, CA has Asperger's Syndrome, so he can remember every little fact about Tiffany but is a little weird to listen to and relate with.  But he's amusing and funny compared to the tragic story of Kelly McCormack, an intersex individual (she identifies as a woman) from Denver, Colorado and her life is sad enough I believe her when she says she'd probably kill herself if not for Tiffany.  Both have been called stalkers, although on that count Jeff is definitely more successful.  He'd also quickly point out that "stalker" is a word invented by the security industry, and something about plots by fascist world organizations to program people into becoming stalkers and actually attacking people.  No, he's not a stalker, he's a fan and a friend.  And that's the weird part (beyond the claims of fighting secret fascist organizations) is that it might be true.  Tiffany appears in the movie, and seems to know Jeff, talk to him, pose for pictures with him, and not be afraid of him (apparently the restraining order is a thing of the past...or her signature was faked to begin with).  I've never seen this kind of story from the stalker's superfan's point of view, and there's an interesting question of reliable narration.  I don't know what I can believe in this movie, but I know it was fun to watch.

Jeff Turner and his friend Doug Hawes (who is also in the movie) were there for a Q&A, where they expanded on the story quite a bit (including the claim above that Tiffany's signature on the restraining order was forged--that's not actually in the movie).  An interesting talk about Tiffany, Alyssa Milano (who is his current obsession), and fascist organizations.  That's still the biggest surprise of the film and the Q&A, and I don't know enough to know what's true.  In the Q&A Jeff explained how there are three secret fascist organizations trying to control the world.  They're fighting each other, and we better hope they keep fighting and don't team up against us.  He even claimed that a certain famous actress died some time ago secretly protecting him from threats from one of the fascist organizations.  I hope I'm being vague enough there that I'm not endangering him.  Anyway, here's a pic of Jeff and Doug talking to the audience: