Sunday, February 15, 2009

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 10

This was my big marathon day of the festival--6 movies (not anywhere near my record, but still pretty tiring).

First up was Waiting for the Sun, a story of an odd night in a hotel somewhere in Italy. It all starts with a bunch of drunk friends driving through town, looking for hookers (or any other sort of amusement). They stop at Hotel Bellevue, home to several colorful characters. While they spend the night harassing the poor night clerk, an odd collection of people are up all night. There's a film crew shooting a porno film and ordering pizza between breaks. A heartbroken man calls his ex-girlfriend. A pair of thieves hide out in a room waiting for their accomplice who never shows up. An odd man harboring a dog (which is not allowed in the hotel). The dialogue is sharp and very clever. Many performances are strongly over-the-top. I sort of wish there was more crossover among the rooms--almost the only knowledge of the outside world comes from screams heard through the walls. Through it all, the night clerk seems like the calm, serene straight man, but then you learn what he's hiding in a cage, and he suddenly becomes the strangest of all. Very amusing.

Next up was the shorts program, "A Scream and a Half". Yeah, I guess it's horror shorts, they were...
Cantata in C Major: A musical piece compiled of screams from horror films throughout history. More experimental than horror. Amusing.
Mombies: The most terrifying terror that ever terrified.
You Better Watch Out: Santa's real, and the fucker's gonna pay for those crappy gifts!
Dead Boyfriend: Pandora with puppets. Her boyfriends have no luck.
Side Effect: An excellent payoff shot makes up for the predictable "twist" based on a common urban legend. And making it about an overachiever instead of a drug addict is a good twist, too.
Dans La Corde: Surreal French film of a man escaping from a wooden box to find--an island, and a tightrope to another island. And no escape.
The Horribly Slow Murderer with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon: I saw this at Dead Channels last year, and it's still funny. A million spoonfuls of terror!

The next program started with the short Mondo Penguin. With the recent resurgence of penguin films (March of the Penguins, Happy Feet) it's good to look back on cinematic history and recognize those classic films made about, for, and by penguins. And oft-overlooked part of our history. Although I have to point out, because I'm a pedantic jackass, that penguins are antarctic, not arctic (they got it wrong at least once).

Then the feature, and this is a little unusual to play a documentary feature with a narrative/mockumentary short. Circus Rosaire is the story of the Rosaire family, a longtime circus family dating back nine generations and starting in England. Once upon a time, the circus was a high form of entertainment. People would dress up, and circuses would perform for royalty and Presidents. Now, they're a dying art form. Partly because of competition from film and TV, partly because they're seen as quaint. And in large part because animal rights/animal welfare organizations have organized boycotts and protests of animal performances. That's especially bad for the Rosaires, because starting with patriarch Derrick Rosaire, Sr. they've become animal training experts. He could famously train practically any animal, and always did it with gentle persuasion rather than coercion and beatings. The movie is really about how well they take care of their animals and the bonds that form. When you see a PETA member argue that if an animal can't survive in the world you should euthanize them rather than train them to perform in a show, I just had to shake my head (for a lot more on the animal rights/animal welfare debate, see Your Mommy Kills Animals from Indiefest 2007). Each of Derrick's children has become an expert in specific animals. His son Derrick Jr (and his son, Derrick III) trains bears. Pamela Rosaire Zoppe trains chimpanzees, and takes care of them way past the performing age of any other trainer (the story of Newton is beautiful and heartbreaking). Kay Rosaire trains big cats (lions and tigers, oh my!) which are beautiful animals. Linda Rosaire used to train dogs but is mostly retired (she did come out for the first all-family act in decades, though). She works at Wal-Mart now and takes in animals on her property. And finally Ellian Rosiare Dymek, the youngest, trains horses. They're an amazing family, and their love for the animals is palpable. As is their love for the art form of the circus, which comes with a healthy dose of nostalgia and sorrow at watching their art form die off (and in watching their animal acts be crowded out by cheaper acts who don't take good care of their animals). This is another movie where I went in with no expectations, and came out amazed.

Next up was perhaps the greatest (and least the most fascinating) documentary on homelessness I've ever seen, Great Speeches from a Dying World. Shot over years on the streets and shelters of Seattle, director Linas Phillips really got into the world and won over some extraordinary trust from his homeless stars. As a result, he gets past the easy "woe is me" story of bad choices (drugs and alcohol) and bad luck, and instead finds dignity, humor, and some surprising self-aware intelligence (usually not enough to get them off the streets, but enough to know how fucked up they are). Without that underpinning, the gimmick of the movie wouldn't work nearly as well (if at all). He asked each person to recite a famous speech or work of literature, reframing both their stories and the famous words. Hamlet's soliloquy takes on a new meaning when recited by a homeless man who has actually attempted suicide a half dozen times. Similar JFK's "ask not what your country can do for you", Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address, or Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman" take on new significance, if not new meaning. A powerful work that finds the human dignity in the least of us.

So then it was clearly time to watch some Japanese porn. The second Pinku films program of the festival, courtesy of (whom I believe I forgot to credit last week). First up was The Bedroom, directed by Hisayasu Sato (Naked Blood, Rampo Noir). I hate to admit it, but I had trouble staying awake in this one. There was something about a woman who goes to a club and takes a drug called Halcyon (drug use is the theme of Naked Blood, too). Halcyon puts her into a comatose state, whereupon the men at the club rape her. That's the point of the club, and she's a willing participant (so I guess it's not really rape). Eventually she stops taking the drug and just fakes being comatose, so she can enjoy it more. But then there's a murder mystery or something. As I said, I couldn't stay awake.

The second pink film, Sexy Battle Girls, had no problem keeping me awake. Mirai has been trained since birth for revenge. A very specific revenge, involving very specific muscles very reminiscent of Teeth. See, the headmaster of a school stole her mother from her father before she was born (while making fun of his tiny penis). She's trained her whole life to seduce him and destroy him with her Venus fly trap. It only helps our sympathy that the headmaster has been pimping out his students to politicians. Sexy comic battles ensue. Lots of fun, and apparently a parody of a famous manga series. Cool.

And finally, the night ended with a french vampire flick, The Teeth of the Night (aka Les Dents de La Nuit or Vampire Party). A fromage-y (french for cheesy) good time, the hero is a huge party animal named Sam Polisatokoniminsky (Patrick Mille). Every night, he must find out what the hottest party is and how to get an invite, with his two lady friends (Frédérique Bel and Julie Fournier). One gets an invite to a very exclusive "Medici" party, so Sam has to steal a couple more. The invite takes them to an exclusive building, where they then board a helicopter that takes them to a remote castle. They go to the regular party room, while others go to the VIP room. In the VIP room, the VIPs watch the party until they get bored. Then they turn into their vampire forms and attack. Chaos ensues, it's silly, bloody fun. Just my kind of flick. The end.

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