Friday, February 27, 2009

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 2

Now the reviews start in earnest. So let's jump right in, starting with Short Program 5: Letting Off Steam. This is their collection of shorts about tension and the release of tension. A pretty intense program, here's the lineup:

Dead Dog: Don't mess with this guy's dog! Seriously, he really loved that dog.
Eiko: A beautiful, mysterious girl shows up in the back of a man's truck. A road trip about sex and suicide, with an even more mysterious ending.
La Hora de la Muerte (The Hour of Death): A guy calls a radio station's late night "Hour of Death" show. He's in a supernatural heap of trouble. Good scary effects, although the sound levels were way low (not sure if that's the movie's fault or the projectionist's fault).
Love You More: Punk love (and lust) set to a Buzzcocks soundtrack.
Rip and the Preacher: Tell me preacher, if fear is just a lack of faith in God, would you care to play a little Russian Roulette?
Twoyoungmen, UT: It's tough to be gay and a Mormon. Even tougher when your just in high school. Even tougher when the guy you just picked up at the bar has no interest in keeping it secret.
Water Pills: Winona Ryder plays a pill-popping mom forcing her daughter into auditions. But when she finally gets a break, she'll have to choose between career and family.

Then it was right over to a different screen in the Camera 12 for Pazar Bir Ticaret Masali (The Market: a Tale of Trade). This was one of my "take a chance on something different" screenings. A comedy about a Turkish market trader? That could go a number of ways, many of them not good (e.g., I was afraid that substantial cultural differences could keep me from getting the humor in the movie. Or it could be a slow, aimless "slice of life" movie instead of a "slice of cake" movie--to borrow a Hitchcock quip). Well, it turns out I had no problem revelling in this movie that was surprisingly active, funny, and morally complex. Mihram (Tayanç Ayaydin) is a small time trader in his local bazaar. He's known for being able to get anything, but he refuses to work with local crime boss Mustafa (Hakan Sahin, whose introduction is actually one of my favorite scenes in the movie). Of course, as Mustafa says, "In trade, everything is connected". For example, in the opening scene Mihram is selling some wire to a friend whose wire was stolen. Turns out (unbeknownst to Mihram), the wire he's selling is the same wire that was stolen.

While Mihram is a good trader, he never keeps much money because he has a bad habit of drinking and gambling it away. Still, underneath it all he's a good man--or so his wife insists. He has the chance to prove that when the local doctor tells him how the supply truck was robbed and they desperately need medicine for the sick children. He has to cross the border (the IMDb summary says into Kazhakstan, but I could've sworn it was Azerbaijan) to get a better price. He has to make a few trades on the way, smuggle in some goods, and partner with his feisty uncle Fazil (Genco Erkal). And even then, forces conspire to thwart his mission, and he's forced to make some troubling moral choices (troubling even for a professional black marketeer). Very enjoyable, a good balance of intelligence and humor.

And then a movie that had most of the audience guessing, "Is this for real?", Rock, Paper, Scissors. This is (I'm not kidding) a documentary about the world championship of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Plenty of people asked if this was actually a mockumentary (not in the Q&A with the director, but amongst ourselves), and I'll go on record as saying I believe it is a real documentary. The premise (guys taking a simple activity way too seriously and competitively) reminds me a lot of Air Guitar Nation (the world championships of air guitar), which also had a strong 'is this for real?' vibe. Anyway, the RPS championship is the brain child of brothers Douglas and Graham Walker. They didn't know if anyone would show up, but instead it turned into a niche cultural phenomenon (and a huge money sink for them), with larger than life figures like the zen-like Master Roshambollah (who was at the screening) and C. Urbanus--who becomes the sympathetic hero for promoting the sport, teaching the strategy, and then always losing in the first round. Oh yeah, strategy. It does exist, and surprisingly more than you'd think. Ideally, perfect randomness is a zero-sum strategy. But people can't truly be random, so the trick is to guess your opponent's non-randomness, and counteract it. And, of course, he or she is trying to do the same. Basically I'd sum up the strategy as "out think your opponent, but not yourself". There are even terms for series of throws--Avalanche (Rock, Rock, Rock), Bureaucrat (Paper, Paper, Paper), Scissors Sandwich (I can't remember if it was Scissors, Paper, Scissors or Paper, Scissors, Paper), etc. Seriously, mathematicians and game theorists write papers on RPS strategy. And if all this wasn't weird enough, the Walker brother's World RPS Society gets challenged by the flashy upstart USA RPS League. That's right, a former potential business partner starts a commercial league that gets sponsorship, actually makes money, uses Playboy Playmates as RPS models. The Walkers refuse to go along, claiming they're destroying the purity of the sport. A truly bizarre story, where the humor comes from taking something silly way too seriously.

As I think about it, there's actually a small niche of films like RPS. Anyone up for a trilogy of RPS, Air Guitar Nation, and Pizza! The Movie (the documentary that includes competitive pizza dough tossing, not the narrative comedy that I haven't seen)?

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