Sunday, March 1, 2009

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 4

This was my big 7 movie day. So let's go right to the movies.

First up was a great, fun documentary, Gotta Dance. In 2007 (I think?), the New Jersey Nets put out a call for dancers for a new halftime show called "The Netsationals". The catch--the minimum age limit was 60 years. That's right, bring the grandparents out and teach them to dance hip hop. This film follows the 13 hopefuls (12 women and one man, Joe, who was surprised that all the other men who showed up for the audition were actually just there to support their wives, not to try out) selected for the inaugural season, from tryouts to practice to their performances. A couple of them are grandmothers of Nets Dancers, and it's cool how the bond with their granddaughters is strengthened by the dance team. One standout is Betty/Betsy. By day, Betsy is a kindergarten teacher, and there's nothing more important than that. She's shy and introverted, and would never get on stage and dance in front of 20,000 fans. So at night she becomes Betty, a hip-hop aficionado and the leader of the Netsationals. Anyway, starting out it looks pretty awkward as these old people try to learn to dance hip hop. They know it's silly, but they work really hard to make sure people cheer for them and laugh them, not at them. It's a really tight practice schedule, and by the time they're taking the court for their first performance, I have butterflies in my stomach. But they nail it, and suddenly everything explodes. They're in USAToday, on Good Morning America, traveling all over the country doing shows. This isn't in the movie, but director Dori Berinstein revealed in the Q&A that she's producing a "Gotta Dance" show on Broadway and putting it on a cruise line (first night is a screening of the film, the rest of the week are hip hop lessons for any seniors who want to learn, the last night is a performance from those who took the lessons). A couple of diva issues creep up, and the lead up to the second performance is even more nerve-wracking. In the final performance they do a "Anything you can do I can do better" routine with the Nets' children's dance team, that's really, really cool. Yeah, this was an excellent, fun story well worth showing up for a 10 am screening.

Next, I went to see As Simple as That, an Iranian film about the day in the life of an unhappy wife and mother. I have to confess, I'm one of the small group of cinephiles who just isn't in to Iranian film, no matter how excited the rest of the cinephile community is about it. I find it slow and boring. I always go back to Hitchcock's quote about how "some movies are a slice of life, but I want my movies to be a slice of cake". Iranian film is too much life, not enough cake for my tastes. I saw this film entirely because it fit best into my schedule in this time slot, and because I'm willing to take a chance (at Cinequest, if it's a choice between a couple hours of rest or seeing a movie I probably won't like, I'll go see the movie). Well, let me start by saying it's beautifully photographed. Taraneh is home all day, serving the demands of her children and neighbors. Although she asks for help, her son is always running up to play on the roof with his friends, her daughter accidentally lets dinner burn, her husband is home very late and is non-communicative or even oblivious (perhaps he works to hard, but he just takes her for granted). It's a story of someone who gives and gives and never gets back, and ultimately I find it impossible not to sympathize with her. Talking with a friend after the movie he pointed out that much of the difficulty is that her emotions are very supressed. She suffers silently, and there's not a great emotional outburst underlining her suffering. This is very much a cultural thing, where it's more important to be the good wife and mother rather than show your emotions, even to your closest friends. Even to those who are suffering the exact same way. In an American film, there would be a big blow-up fight. In an Iranian film, a neighbor asks for help from "a happily married woman" and she can't bring herself to confess that that's not her. So in the end, I thought this movie was okay. I'm happy I saw it, but I'm still not going to jump on the bandwagon and embrace Iranian film in general.

From Iran I moved to the Pakistan/India border dispute, with Ramchand Pakistani. Based on a true story, Ramchand is a Pakistani Hindu child from a small village near the Indian border. He belongs to the lowest caste--the untouchables. In 2002, border tensions were high over the Kashmir region. And Ramchand made the mistake of accidentally wandering across the border. He's picked up by Indian guards. So is his father when he runs over to reclaim him. And so they spend the next 4+ years in an Indian prison. The Indians (at first) assume they're Pakistani spies. The Pakistanis assume they're Indian spies (because they're Hindu). Even when it becomes clear that they're innocent, they're left to rot in prison because that's just what happens to border crossers. For the first year, they aren't even officially registered into the prison (since it's overcrowded already), and if you aren't registered of course you can't be released. But an interesting thing happens. Since prison is now their life, the movie, instead of being about injustice, becomes about life. Ramchand is growing up in prison. A new (female) guard is put in charge of him--his chores and his teaching. At first she's horrified to learn he's an untouchable, but soon she learns there are no castes in prison (which is sort of the tagline to the film). And her friendship with Ramchand is perhaps the sweetest thing in the movie. Meanwhile, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the life of Ramchand's mother back in Pakistan. She's lost a husband and a son, and her story--from grief to defiance and even at one point to acceptance and trying to move on--is just as fascinating and approached with just as much humanity as the prison story. For those looking for a happy ending, since it's a true story I don't think it's a spoiler to say that eventually they are released from prison and Ramchand is reunited with his mother (his father is released a little while later).

Then I joined my friends Ron and Yoli (Cinequest virgins) for a couple of movies. First we went for a little drink. On the way we ran into Halfdan and I introduced them. It took me a couple of years of going all out at the movies before I got to shake Halfdan's hand. They got to shake his hand before seeing film 1. That's beginner's luck.

First we went to see Shorts Program 3: Animated World. Here's the rundown:
Chainsaw: A brilliant piece about chainsaw safety, bucking bulls, sex, cheating, bullfighting, Frank Sinatra, and death. There's a segment on chainsaw safety, it changes suddenly to the death of a famous bucking bull (named Chainsaw). Then to the death of a famous bullfighter. And then just as the 'WTF?' vibe reaches its height, it ties it all together brilliantly.
Chicory and Coffee: A beautiful claymation love story of a frugal wife who substitutes chicory for her husband's coffee. When she finally passes of old age, the gruff grandfather laments that coffee will never taste the same again.
Glance Back: A day in the life of photo-realistic virtual Abraham Lincoln.
Inquisitive Snail: Hilarious. The snail learns secrets. Secrets make it fat. Secrets are delicious.
Kaleidoscoptics: Chaotic, colorful, a little perverse. I think it's fair to call this experimental.
Lies: Fast paced, three stories about lies. A conman who breaks into an office over Easter weekend and fools the guards into thinking he's an accountant. A schoolboy who steals 100 crowns from his mother's purse and then has to pretend to have stolen it elsewhere. And a drug addict who has lied her whole life. Fascinating, sometimes funny, and very fast. One of the cases when sitting in the front row does me no favors, as it's a little too fast to read subtitles and see the action.
Life on a Limb: Mortal enemies meet in a doctor's waiting room. A lumberjack...and a tree.
Our Wonderful Nature: Hilarious, hilarious slow-motion capture of two male water shrews fighting over a female. It takes seconds, but what happens if you slow it down?
Run: Stop motion music video of spiders, power sockets, spacemen, and...I don't know what. But it was cool to watch.
Slaves: Of course, we had to end with a traumatic animated documentary about childhood slavery in Africa. A little out of place, given how much laughs were in the rest of the program, but a very good movie anyway.

Then Ron, Yoli and I had to see the next film because we had already taken a ride on their couch. Billy Was a Deaf Kid is a bizarre little comedy about some really aggravating people. The film opens with the couple Archie (co-director Rhett Lewis) and Sophie (Candyce Foster) sitting on a couch, waxing their nose hairs (and for Archie, his unibrow). She slaps him a few times, because that's something she always wanted to do. His turn--he spits in her face for the exact same reason. Playful games, taken too far--that's the theme of the movie. Finally they go and rescue Archie's brother Billy (Zachary Christian) from his sister's house. Billy is deaf, but Archie straps a big clunky play radio and microphone on his head. He believes Billy can hear through that, and his belief is supposedly confirmed by a code of blinking (never mind that people always blink). Billy never speaks, rarely even reacts to the world around him. In this movie, he's really just an omnipresent prop. Well, they ride an old couch down the street, take it through the carwash (which looked kinda painful). They practice accents (Archie can't do a British accent without squinting), they run from the cops and hide in a dumpster (for no good reason). And they test their relationship--more spitting, more slapping, more testing of boundaries. That's where they become a truly aggravating couple. Many times in the movie they break up and get back together--all over the course of a day. It's that time in an evolving relationship where you can't quite just be yourself. You have to pretend to be someone more interesting, more "out there", and end up pushing it too far and being an asshole. But it sure is funny to watch.

Next up was New Brooklyn, a difficult drama about survival. Marta (Blanca Lewin, who is a huge star in her native Chile) has moved to New York to be an actress. She hasn't had much luck, and is all alone save for her roommate (and that's not so great, given what her brother Eddie does to Marta). She begs her boyfriend Alvaro to move up to New York with her, and eventually he does, just to break up with her. Meanwhile she does get work on a really shitty movie. The director's an asshole who always wants her to show a little more flesh. But one of the producers, Brad, is really nice and she's maybe falling in love with him. But as the city, Eddie, Alvaro, and life in general dumps more and more on her (her check from the movie bounces, making her lose her chance at her own apartment), she learns to find some inner strength and fight back. The scene where she gets some revenge (real and symbolic) on a subway thug drew cheers, and things might just start going her way. But this isn't a happy movie, and there isn't a happy ending for her. A downer of a story, but well made and well acted, especially by Blanca Lewin.

And after that, I finished the night with a sick, bloody werewolf womedy, Audie and the Wolf. Actually, werewolf is the wrong term, this is a were-man movie. The star is a kind wolf, the pet of a wise old Indian. However, on a full moon he turns into a bloodthirsty human. In his human form, he has no memories and is motivated only by a hunger for meat. When the feds surround and kill his Indian master, he's on his own, and wouldn't you know it, there's a full moon tonight. He's picked up by a Hollywood starlet (still in wolf form), whom he promptly kills that night (when he changes to human form). But she doesn't stay dead. Yeah, his victims become zombies. And as the body count rises, the basement starts to get crowded. Now I need to introduce Audie. She's a punk girl who works for a grocery delivery company. He calls (barely remembering how to use the phone) and asks for a delivery of meat. Somehow she shows up, although neither he nor her know the address (yeah, there are a few plot holes). There is immediate chemistry, and they fall in love--so sweet. But, of course, the body count rises (the starlet's agent, director, gardener, etc. show up, and all die). Audie brings in a psychic and a priest to try and understand his curse--they end up eaten as well. Lots of blood, and lots of laughs. Best line: "If she didn't want to be eaten, she shouldn't have been made out of meat!" I loved it.

And that was last Saturday at Cinequest. And I'm way behind in my reviews.

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