Monday, June 29, 2009

Jason goes to the Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival at the Niles Film Museum

So last weekend my favorite local silent film theater did a whole weekend of silent era indies. I caught about half of it. Wish I had caught all, but I was occupied all day Saturday and Sunday night. Sometimes it's hard being so popular.

Anyway, Friday night kicked off with a program "From Lasky to Paramount". It started with a brief talk on the history of the independent studios (most notably Lasky and Famous Players) that became Paramount. Paramount started as a distribution company affiliated with the independent studios including Lasky Feature Play Company and Adolph Zukor's Famous Players Film Company (the Edison patent companies had the major distributors and basically locked the independents out, if they couldn't put them out of business by enforcing patents). Later the studios merged to produce films under the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, with Paramount still the distribution company. Eventually the name became Paramount-Famous Lasky Corporation and finally just Paramount Pictures, Inc. The films we watched were:

A TRIP THROUGH THE PARAMOUNT STUDIO (1927): A nearly decayed print of a promotional film celebrating the West Coast Movie...something or other. Seemed like some big to-do. At least Paramount had all its stars out, from Clara Bow to W. C. Fields.

WHEN CLUBS WERE TRUMPS (1916): Hubby wants to play cards with his pals, but wifey won't let him. So the boys send over a fake cop to "arrest" him and drag him away. Too bad there's also a madman on the loose, and a real cop chasing him. I predict lots of mistaken identity antics. I was right!

THE BUTCHER BOY (1917): Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle as a butcher who gets into a very messy fight for the hand of his love. Includes Buster Keaton's first appearance on film.

And the feature, THE ENEMY SEX 1924): Betty Compson (also in WHEN CLUBS WERE TRUMPS) is an actress who is fortunate to be invited to Mr. Albert Edward Sassoon's big party, the apex of the social scene. Of course, every man is smitten with her. But she's a good girl--she expects men to slip up once, but only once! Still, she inspires a judge to leave his wife, a high society drunk to...get really drunk. And try to clean up. And fail. And eventually succeed, but he still can't give up driving really fast. Oh yeah, there's a drunk driving/speeding scene that you could not get away with nowadays. My, times have changed.

Speaking of drunk. I missed Saturday because I was engaging in a pub crawl up the peninsula, from Palo Alto to San Mateo. But I used public transit. I ringed the bay, and only got thrown out of one bar (for being sleepy, not rowdy. WTF?).

Apparently if I had stayed at the festival on Saturday I would've seen a modern silent "newsreel" of Diana Carey's (aka Baby Peggy's) 90th birthday. The important thing about that--I'm in it. Yeah, I'm a silent film extra STAR!

Anyway, I was back at the festival for a couple of shows on Sunday, starting with a tribute to the 100th anniversary of the founding of Thanhouser Company. Ned Thanhouser, the founder's grandfather (and an archivist saving, restoring, and re-releasing the company's lost films) was there to give a little history of the studio. In a nutshell, Edwin Thanhouser was a stage actor who got into film production, and the Thanhouser Company was the first motion picture company in America to be founded by someone with stage experience (others were technical people or distributors first). As a result, they were widely regarded as making the best films of the era. However, they were very slow to adapt to the advent of feature films, continuing to make shorts almost exclusively. Eventually they did switch and make 100% features, but it was too late.

The films that were screened:

THE EVIDENCE OF THE FILM (1913): A dastardly crook. A framed delivery boy. An exonerating film (recently added to the National Film Registry as a "culturally significant" film for it's depiction of women working in the film lab). A glaring technical error (magic film that can switch from behind to in front of the scene). High melodrama, definitely shows the stage roots of Thanhouser.

JUST A SHABBY DOLL (1913): A love story and a class story. A father tells a story to his daughter about the significance of an old doll. How he was a poor boy who loved a rich girl. How he saved every penny to give her a present. How he left to find his fortune, found it (in the easiest gold strike ever), returned, and found now he's the rich one and she's the poor one. And that's how he found his love again. Aaaawwww.

THE WOMAN IN WHITE (1917) (aka THE UNFORTUNATE MARRIAGE): Thanhouser star Florence La Badie (who also appeared in THE EVIDENCE OF THE FILM) stars in a dual role, as both Ann Catherick, an escaped mental patient (in white) and Laura Fairlie a reasonably wealthy heiress. She's forced against her will to marry Sir Percival Glyde, although the mental patient slips her a note warning her that he's not the man he appears to be. Meanwhile her true love (Walter, her art teacher) is sent off on a comission to Central America. Of course, Percival has a plan to steal her fortune, but her sister Marian, along with Walter (who has returned with a Brazilian secret service agent for some reason) help her foil the plan and also reveal the crimes he comitted against poor, slow Ann Catherick. It's a classic story (based on a popular novel, and in 1917 this was already the third film adaptation), and one chock full of odd coincidences. I haven't read the novel so I don't know if the coincidences are more believable there.

Then we had a program of films made (at least in part) in the Bay Area. David Kiehn (who is the projectionist at the theater and a historian who wrote a book on the history of the Essanay studio in Niles) gave a nice talk about early bay area film industry.

A TRIP DOWN MARKET STREET (1906): Just days before the earthquake. A view from a trolley as it makes its way down Market Street to the Ferry Building. Not much really happens, other than cars, people, and horse-draw carriages weaving back and forth in front of the camera. Including one guy in a bowler hat who keeps showing up. Even 100 years ago, people were jumping in front of cameras.

DREAM PICTURE (1925): A contest by the Oakland Tribune had people write in with their strange dreams for a chance at a cash prize and having their dream turned into a movie. Mabel Nicholson had a strange dream where she went on a picnic to Marin with her husband and baby. But in San Francisco, they realize the baby basket is empty so they take the ferry back to Oakland (assuming he's still in the car). He's not just in the car, he's driving away.

POP TUTTLE, DETECKATIVE (1922): On in a series of Pop Tuttle comedies (this is the only one I've seen). Pop Tuttle is an eccentric, foolish old man, and in this one he sends away for a detective kit. Along with a very large and very strong nice young lady Tillie Olson (Wilna Hervey, and I was unclear if she was supposed to be his daughter, girlfriend, or just a friend). Anyway, his detective kit is put to good order catching a crook who happens to be masquerading as a detective himself. Of course, it's the giant Tillie who does all the crook-catching.

And finally, the show ended with the feature CALL OF THE KLONDIKE (1926): Dick Norton (Gaston Glass) is a young mining engineer, working in the desert with an old miner, whose daughter Violet (Dorothy Dwan) is Norton's true love. The old miner talks of the good ol' days in the Klondike, so when a new strike is found, Norton rushes up there. He becomes established as a capable and honest mining engineer, which of course rubs the devious Mortimer Pearson (Earl Metcalfe) the wrong way. Well, Violet and her father move up to the Klondike, too (too quickly to get word to Norton, so it's a pleasant surprise). Unfortunately, she also catches the eye of Pearson, who steps in to "help" (blackmail) when her father falls ill. Pearson makes a play for both Violet and Norton's claim, in the process framing Norton for the murder of his mining partner. Fortunately, he is rescued by Lightning Girl, his trusty dog. Doggy heroes are the best!

And that was all I saw. I had other plans for dinner so I didn't stay for the final show (IMP to Universal).

If you want more silent film, come to the Niles Film Museum every Saturday night. Except for July 11th. Rumor has it there are some silent films playing at the Castro that weekend, instead.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


So last Thursday Reid Gershbein, a filmmaker and friend of mine (through Twitter), screened his two ultra-low-budget feature films. I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement to enter the building, so maybe I can't tell you where it screened. I'll just say it was a certain studio in Redwood City, it starts with D, rhymes with "beam smirks", and had a giant panda in the lobby--a panda that looked like it knew kung-fu. Really, I think the non-disclosure agreement was really about anything I learned about in-development projects, and since I only went as far as the screening room right past the lobby, I learned nothing.

Anyway, that was my first time in a real studio screening room, so that's kinda cool. But let's get to the movies.

First up was HERE. MY EXPLOSION... The film centers around Sera (Eleese Longino), an artist who makes things out of paper (for example, a city scape with roads and cars made out of folded maps) and then burns them (and films them burning). But the interesting thing about her is what happens when she drinks coffee. Or rather, when she puts her coffee cup down and leaves the room. It always moves seemingly on its own. Usually this only happens with coffee cups, but at least one time an entire car moves on her. When she shows this to her unemployed (and loving it) friend Francois (Jeffery Davis, whom I met at Cinequest when he was in CANARY), he freaks out a bit but he's a relaxed, easy going guy who accepts it pretty quickly. In fact, he proposes an experiment. She drinks a cup of coffee, he'll hold on to the cup while she leaves the room. Whatever strange thing happens, he'll witness and/or experience it. And...well, you'll have to see the movie to find out. Which is easy enough to do, since he's giving it away for free.

Beyond the plot, other things to like about the movie: First, a bright color palette. This is very surprising for an ultra-low-budget (I think he said he made this for $500) movie. It usually seems like most indie filmmakers live in a world without primary colors, but not Reid. He also uses some very inventive, experimental camera angles. He's not afraid to shoot handheld at an angle or around a wall filming a reflection in a mirror. The music is cool, and he does some interesting things with stopping the soundtrack and letting the conspicuous silence draw your attention to the picture. The soundtrack and the camerawork serve to keep the audience more than a little off balance. This is an odd world where the story takes place. It looks exactly like our world (in particular, San Francisco), but just strange enough that you know you'll have to roll with some weirdness to get through it. And that's how the characters react, too. This isn't a sci-fi story where they have to figure out why this weird stuff is happening so they can stop it. In fact, why it's happening is hardly considered at all. Instead it's magic realism--accepting a magical event (or events) and exploring realistically the effect it has on Sera and on all her friends. And that's really cool.

The same bright colors, strange camera angles (even more so), interesting soundtrack, and much of the cast were back for Reid's second film, THE DABBLER, THE DREAMER, AND THE MAN WHO BROKE THE WORLD. This was made for about $100 in a total time (from first shot to final cut) of 2 weeks. In fact, it's part of the inaugural round of the 2 week film collective that Reid has started. Again, it centers around a group of friends and there's a lot of interesting dialogue. Jeffery Davis is back as a guy who has been working on a novel in his head for 10 years and finally might have an idea for a theme (maybe he's the Dabbler?). Cheryl Fidelman seems to have it all together--she attends sexy naked parties (no, there's nothing shown on screen, just a lot of talking about parties) and seems to know exactly what Jeffery should write about. And Orlando Mendoza (who appeared in HERE. MY EXPLOSION... as a bartender) is so full of stress he just wants out (of what? That's never explained). Orlando goes to Seth Burnham (also in HERE. MY EXPLOSION...), who is either a demi-god, a force of nature, or just a guy with some amazing connections (and even more amazing pants). He gives Orlando a box (perhaps Pandora's?), and when Orlando opens it...all electricity stops working. No lights, no cars (can't start), no cell phones. Just walking and talking to people. And the interesting thing is, when the world's broken, people are still people. Sometimes even more so. Suddenly live performance and storytelling is a popular pastime. Without distractions, Jeffery bangs out his novel in a flash (but still doesn't give Cheryl credit). Cheryl, meanwhile, who had everything together, starts to fall apart a bit. Now that everyone is going to naked parties, she stops going. It all does get resolved, eventually. But mostly it's a very laid back, optimistic story of people being more important than all the electronic gimmicks around them. And of course I'm still a sucker for magic realism, so this night was pretty darn cool.

You can download both films and learn more about the 2 week film collective at Reid's website, here (where you can also support Reid by buying invisible imaginary air).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Jason watches THE HANGOVER

And I did it the right way--with a massive hangover. I'm not going to bother being the thousandth person to write a review of it. I'll just say it was really funny.

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for a Les Blank evening

In preparation for the Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival (starting this Friday!), the Niles Film Museum has been showcasing local independent film and filmmakers (see, the theme of the festival is early independent studios, some of whom became big studios like Universal or Paramount). Last Friday was Les Blank night. And I, for one, couldn't have been happier.

Three short films were shown, starting with THE BLUES ACCORDING TO LIGHTNIN' HOPKINS. This is the one of the three that I had seen before (back at Docfest 2007), and one of Blank's earliest films. A slice of very local flavore of a great blues man, and a very funny guy (the traffic accident story is hilarious). It definitely holds up to multiple viewings, and I especially noticed that even when I couldn't understand everything he was saying (he has a very thick accent), his voice was like music that I could listen to and get without understanding.

Next up was WERNER HERZOG EATS HIS SHOE, a film I've wanted to see for a long time. Back in the 70's and 80's, both Werner Herzog and Les Blank were regulars at the Pacific Film Archives in Berkeley, and there was a young student who was constantly bugging Herzog with ideas for films. Herzog told him he should make a movie, and the student complained that he had no money, no camera, and no clue as to how to even start making a movie. Herzog responded that he didn't need that, he just lacked the guts, and in fact if he ever made a movie he (Herzog) would eat his shoe. Well, that student was Errol Morris, who went on to become one of the most famous documentary filmmakers in the world (and won an Oscar for FOG OF WAR). He ran off and made GATES OF HEAVEN, a documentary about a pet cemetary, and it was very well received. At the Berkeley premiere of the film, Herzog made good on his promise. With the help of Alice Waters and the Chez Panisse kitchen, he cooked it with lots of garlic and duck fat (which was supposed to soften it up, but ended up making it incredibly hard) and ate his shoe on stage. Hilarious, and it was really weird to see Werner Herzog looking so young.

And finally, we finished the night with GARLIC IS AS GOOD AS TEN MOTHERS, which has recently been included in the national film registry as a historically important film. It Features Alice Waters and the kitchen of Chez Panisse again, as well as a colorful collection of local garlic worshippers. And they are worshippers, some of these guys go beyond 'I like the taste of garlic and things I can cook with it' to 'I feel like dressing up in a garlic costume and writing my own garlic gospel (garlospel?)' It was fun, it was funny, and I could swear by the end I could smell the beautiful aroma of garlic wafting through the room.

That was because as we were watching the movie, volunteers were putting together a spread of snacks, including roast garlic. Mmmm...delicious!

You can purchase the movies above on DVD as well as other films by Les Blank or his label Flower Films at his website.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Jason wraps up Holehead

Sorry for the late updates. I've been a bit out of it for a few days. Anyway, the final Holehead movie I saw (a week ago now) was BLOOD RIVER. I simple setup which could have been better if a) the characters were more believable and/or sympathetic and b) the dialogue was not so pretentious. A young married couple are driving through the remote Nevada desert. The only sign of life for miles around is a lone drifter. Of course, their tire blows out, and their stranded. Enter the drifter. He might be there to help, he says some nice words, but in the most menacing possible way--weird biblical, apocalyptic rantings. So he and the husband go for help while the wife stays back in the ghost town. There are some good scenes--creepy more than scary. And there's a twist that's completely out of left field and doesn't just make everyone look morally worse, it just makes everything seem ridiculous.

Anyway, that was a bit of a disappointment for my final film at Holehead. Other plans kept me from repeat screenings of any movies (just as well, the only two I kinda regret not seeing twice are MORGUE STORY and COMING SOON). But overall, this was a pretty good year at Holehead (despite the total lack of vampires and dearth of zombies), with tons of grindhouse-alicious fun. I haven't heard any details on who won the audience award, but I've heard rumors that SAMURAI AVENGER was at least near the lead. If it wins, remember who brought it there! (And if it doesn't win, I'm still at least proud that "Fuck Nathan Flesher" is scrawled on the walls of the Roxie men's room. And no, I didn't do that.)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 10

A couple more programs last night, starting with the short WITHOUT. In a post-apocalyptic desert, a man with carrying a severed toe meets a man without a toe. If only they can trust each other.

That was the the lead-in to the feature, AUDIE AND THE WOLF, the second film I brought to the festival from Cinequest (the other being SAMURAI AVENGER: BLIND WOLF). Here's (scroll to the bottom) what I said about it when I first saw it:
I finished the night with a sick, bloody werewolf comedy, 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.
I'll completely stand by that review. And add that last night's screening was extra awesome because Phuket (the official beer of Holehead) sponsored as much free beer as you could drink during the movie. And it was extra cool getting a little recognition for bringing the film to Holehead (some in the audience started chanted "Jason! Jason! Jason!" I told them to wait until after they saw the movie, then decide if they still love me. No one was chanting my name afterwards, but I think they liked it anyway)

AUDIE AND THE WOLF plays again closing night--Thursday, June 18th at 5:00 pm.

And the second show of the night was Takashi Miike's second movie in the festival, DETECTIVE STORY. Like a typical Miike film, there's nothing typical about it. There's bizarre humor, blood, and a fucked up plot (and that's typical for Miike). It's a tale of two Raitas--one is a quiet IT professional, the other (Raita Kazama, the Detective of the title) is a flashy private eye with a penchant for Hawaiian shirts. The first Raita has just moved into an apartment that happens to be next door to Raita Kazama, and despite having nothing in common they at least drink together over their shared name. And then Kazama's client is killed and her liver is cut out. A second victim shows up with her kidneys missing, and so on and so on. Kazama is framed, or at least a likely suspect (aided by the fact that he used to be a crappy cop and the police don't like him one bit). But it all really leads to an insane artist who uses human blood and organs as paint. Yup, typical Miike, and typically awesome.

DETECTIVE STORY plays again Wednesday, June 17th at 5:00 pm

By the way, the one movie in the festival I won't see before it's final screening is BLOOD RIVER. Getting up for the 5 pm show on Wednesday is difficult, seeing as how I work down in San Jose. So if you're interested in seeing it, don't wait for my review just go.

Jason watches THE LAST LULLABY

Cinequest and the Camera 3 team up again to bring a theatrical release to a great film that I missed in the festival.

THE LAST LULLABY is a story that in different hands could be a flashy, stylized, "cool" flick about a hitman. Instead director Jeffrey Goodman steps back, lets the substance of the story count more than they style, and builds a careful, quiet, character driven story about killing people. Tom Sizemore stars the hitman, Price. The story opens with some of the only flash you'll see. A woman is kidnapped by some violent thugs. Price "rescues" her, only to collect his own ransom (and outwit her father, who is obviously some sort of organized crime boss). That score is his retirement, but size months later he's a bored, restless insomniac so when the crime boss contacts him with a job, he's game. There's a woman, Sarah (Sasha Alexander) that he needs killed in 10 days (something about a grand jury and she's the only witness. That becomes very important later). Price goes about it slowly, spending a couple of days on reconnaissance. But at some point, possible when he beats up her jerk of an ex-boyfriend, his heart opens and he finds himself conflicted.

I loved the quietness, simpleness, non-embellishedness (if that's a word) of it all. It's ostensibly an action story, but there are no explosions. It takes place in a small town which could be anywhere. Price isn't a hitman because it's cool (maybe he started that way, but not anymore), he's a hitman because it's his job. Very well done.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 9

I saw 2 more movies last night. Anyone who stayed for all 4 had a grindhouse overdose, starting with BLACK DEVIL DOLL, ending with SOMEONE'S KNOCKING AT THE DOOR. I saw the two movies in between.

First up the short THE VAGINA SONG. Maya Prickett sings about how she's tired of being treated like nothing more than a hole, and hopes to find love. Excellent use of bunnies.

Moving on to the feature, PIG HUNT. A local NorCal production, a group of San Francisco friends go on a guy's weekend hunting pigs up in Boonville (where director James Issac grew up. He said in the intro that he always knew if he was going to make a movie about Boonville it would have to be a horror flick). At least it was supposed to be a guy's weekend, but John brings along his hot girlfriend Brooks. The other guys have to let it go, though, since John is taking them to his late uncle's ranch. On their way out there, they run into rednecks (including Les Claypool, who also did the soundtrack), hippies, and a legend of a 3,000 lb wild boar called The Ripper. Rest assured all three will come back to torment and kill them (especially the hippies. God damn fucking hippies!) John's childhood friends show up, not looking all that friendly. They find a giant stash of pot plants, and a whole lot of murdering goes down. Excellent, high energy and very particular to the region (although, of course, highly exaggerated). And one final note, I was struck by how much religious symbolism surrounded the rednecks. Les Claypool's character was named Preacher, and presumably is a preacher (at least he wears the outfit). Crosses abound on the vehicles and the weapons (lots of crossbows used). And yet they don't speak much about God or the Bible. Making them psychos who surround themselves with religious symbols really amused me. But what amused me more was the teddy bear hood ornament. You'll have to see it to know what I mean.

PIG HUNT plays again Monday, June 15th at 9:30.

And then the next show was maybe the grindhouse-iest of the festival (although it has to compete with BLACK DEVIL DOLL). But first the feature X-MESS DETRITUS. Cool stop motion animation of discarded and decaying toys, over a poem that exhorts you to give love instead of material things as gifts. Or something like that. I liked the visuals a lot more than the message. And although the short was pretty good, I'm going to gripe once more about how many shorts are not well paired to the features.

But then, it could be hard to find a short to match this feature. RUN! BITCH RUN! is an insane, grimy exploitation flick. Two Catholic school girls are trying to raise money selling religious paraphernalia (a theme of the night). And, of course, they fall into a murderous house of sin, led by Lobo, the howling psycho pimpmaster. Then there's Marla (or was that Karla or Darla, every girl there had an -arla name), a cranky, bitchy whore who'll kill any John with the temerity to call her a whore. And then there's stuttering Clint, who likes to watch nunsploitation porn while fucking the whores, and who is bullied by both Lobo and Marla. Now enter the Catholic girls Rebecca (Playboy model Christina DeRosa) looks at this trip as an opportunity for some freedom (and the audience gets to see her all good an' naked coming out of the shower before the story really begins). She's paired with Catherine (Cheryl Lyone), who maintains her high moral standards even if they're far from the sisters. Of course, that doesn't matter, 'cuz they're both gonna get all raped and murdered. Rebecca buys it in a game of Russian Roulette, but for Catherine they have a special game--like hide 'n seek but better. Only problem (for them), is that the whole "killing her" part doesn't really take, and so she returns for holy pile of revenge. Awesome. The only problem was the porntastic soundtrack was too loud. Oh yeah, and I guess for other people the problem might be that it's completely offensive and wholly inappropriate.

RUN! BITCH RUN! plays again Monday, June 15th at 5:00 pm.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 8

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Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum and sees AROUND THE BAY with PASSION FLOWER

Wait, those aren't silent films! Yeah, in a lead up to the Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival (which this year showcases early independent film studios), the Niles Film Museum is showcasing local indie films. I missed last weekend due to Holehead, and unfortunately I don't think I can make it Sunday night for John Korty (but you should all go!). I should be back next weekend for Les Blank (who's awesome). And I was there last night for Alejandro Adams AROUND THE BAY (which I've seen before but never with an audience) and Jarrod Whaley's short PASSION FLOWER (which I've never seen, but I'm at least a fan of him on Twitter). Full disclosure, although this is supposed to be local indies, Jarrod is not yet local (he's still in the process of moving to the Bay Area from Chattanooga, TN).

So first PASSION FLOWER. Jarrod Whaley documents the story of Ann Law, a breast cancer survivor. She's had a double mastectomy and instead of getting implants she's decided to keep her chest flat and get a beautiful flower tattoo where her breasts were. The documentary takes place entirely within the tattoo parlor, and while documenting the entire procedure Ann talks about her experience with breast cancer, mastectomy, and her decision to get a tattoo rather than implants. A fascinating and touching story, told with a grace and frankness that highlights the beauty instead of the pathos.

And then the feature AROUND THE BAY. As I said, I've seen it before and at the time I wrote this:
The story is relatively simple. Wyatt, a Los Gatos businessman has a big house (with a pool), a 5 year old son named Noah, and a girlfriend Noreen. Obsessed with his commercial real estate deals, he all but ignores the last two. When he loses his girlfriend and job at the same time, he's far to stoic to admit that his life is in shambles. Instead he calls his 21 year old daughter from a previous marriage (Daisy, whom he hasn't seen since she was 10), and convinces her to move out and take care of Noah while he tries to get his business deals up and working again. Two things really impressed me about this movie. First, for a movie that's made up so much of people talking at each other, the story really takes place in what isn't said. Example, right in the beginning. Wyatt goes out leaving Noah alone at home. He tells Noah, "You're in charge of the house", but what's really said is "I don't have time for you, you take care of yourself even though you're only five" (and there's a point early on where I was afraid Noah would drown in the pool, but this movie is much subtler than that). The other thing I really liked is that Noah is a real kid, not a precocious voice of innocent wisdom. He hardly ever says anything smart, he says stuff that's annoying, rambunctious, or just funny--you know, just like a five year old kid. Nothing throws a cinematic cliche into focus like breaking it, and now I'm not sure if I can watch another precocious-child-teaches-everyone-a-lesson movie without focusing on how unrealistic it is. I don't know if Connor Maselli is a child actor or just a child being a child. If the former, he's very talented at acting natural. If the latter, Alejandro Adams was smart to not cast an actor.
At the time I didn't have the benefit of a Q&A with Alejandro Adams, so last night I learned that Connor was acting, and is not really the rambunctious hell-raiser he is in the movie (normally he's really quiet). The movie also plays very differently on a big screen and with an audience (not a large one last night, but an appreciative, let's say "elite" audience). There are things I've forgotten or didn't notice the first time on DVD at home. The first time, I was mostly interested in Noah, and everything seemed to orbit around him. This time I was much more interested in Wyatt, his girlfriend, and his daughter, and the relationship tensions among them all (in particular the daughter and girlfriend fighting over the proper way to look after Noah).

By the way, a big thank you to Lincoln Spector of for introducing the films and moderating the Q&A afterwards. Good job, and nice haircut. Does that leave me as the only scruffy looking film blogger left in the Bay Area?

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 7

I just saw one movie last Thursday, and it was a bit of a departure for a horror/fantasy/sci-fi festival.

But first the short, EAT ME. A silent film, and a love story so strong, not even turning into zombies can stop it.

Then the feature, a documentary MONSTERS FROM THE ID. A tribute to 1950's sci-fi films with tons of clips and interviews with film historians and scientists. The thesis is simple, and presented with conviction--that the generation of American scientists who put men on the moon were inspired by 1950's sci-fi, the last decade that had a real sense of hero-worship for scientists. It even makes some dire predictions about the future, given the steady decline in science degrees in the United States. And as a scientist (although one who whored out to industry instead of pursuing academia), this spoke to me. But as a film fan I wanted to go back and just watch a giant pile of 1950's sci-fi. And I want to turn of the scientist part of my brain that scoffs at the cheesy inaccuracies and find a new appreciation in the sense of wonder they can inspire. So it was a nice little celebration of science, and that was cool. I even wore my "Science: It Works, Bitches" t-shirt for the occasion.

Oh, and my favorite part of the movie: One of the professors in the movie (I believe it was Dr. Leroy Dubeck) was talking about a type of WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE scenario (out of respect, I refuse to call it the ARMAGEDDON scenario, or even the DEEP IMPACT scenario)--a large asteroid, large enough to destroy all human life on earth, is on a direct collision course. We detect it 30 years out (we really are looking for stuff like that), and have to come up with a solution (divert it, destroy it, abandon earth, etc.). Since it's the survival of the human race, all world governments would fund any idea (we wouldn't want to put all our hopes into just one plan), and scientists would be the heroes. Now there are three possible outcomes. First, the scientists could succeed and they'd all be heroes. Hooray for science! Second, the original calculations could be off and the asteroid misses earth. There would be some grumbling about all the money spent, but there would be incredible technological breakthroughs with peripheral benefits. And everyone survives, so they're not too mad. Still, hooray science! And third, the calculations could be correct but despite all the efforts we fail to divert/destroy/abandon/etc. and humanity is extinct. In that case there's no one around to complain, and at least those last 30 years were really cool. For science, it's win/win/win.

I just wanted to say, I knew exactly where he was going from the start. And it was awesome hearing the people in the audience who were surprised by his conclusion.

MONSTERS FROM THE ID plays again Sunday, June 14th at 5:00 pm.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 6

You might notice I skipped day 5. I was at...something else. And Holehead is scheduled so that it's easy to skip a few days. And in fact last night I only went up there for one movie (I decided to go home and get some sleep instead of re-watching SILENCE OF THE SUSHI ROLLS. I think choosing sleep over Japanese porn is a sign that I'm getting too old).

The one film I did see was a real winner, though. First the short THE LEGEND OF OL' GOLDIE. A little boy befriends a strange goldfish he caught. His home life is shit (his parents are always fighting in some gobbledygook language), so he forms a bond with Ol' Goldie. But Goldie is a ravenous fish, devouring other fish with his razor sharp claws and working his way up to whole chickens. That's a big, dangerous fish.

And then the feature, which is at least one of my top 3 favorites so far (along with THE HORSEMAN and SAMURAI AVENGER (which is a biased choice)), MORGUE STORY. The story begins, oddly enough, at the ending, and even odder with a blood-spattered man and woman struggling to keep their feet while talking about ARMY OF DARKNESS and how awesome Bruce Campbell is (which draws in my interest immediately). Then we go back to the beginning, and the woman--comic book author Ana Argento, played by Mariana Zanette--goes on to describe the events of the day she died. Sort of. See, she was poisoned by a bible-thumping coroner Dr. Daniel Torres (Leandro Daniel Colombo) using an elixer made from blowfish (more deadly fish--theme of the program) that sends the victim into a temporary cataleptic state (the legendary voodoo zombie poison). Meanwhile, in the morgue the coroner gets set to rape her before she wakes up. But he's interrupted by Tom (Anderson Faganello), an actual cataleptic who was sent to the morgue by mistake (it happens every so often). Despite only 3 primary characters, their complicated intermingling, coincidental backstories are a font of comedy, as is a lot of clever camera work and a heaping pile of film references. Although for the record, they got one thing wrong--DIE HARD 2: DIE HARDER was not the best DIE HARD movie (the first one was). But I'll forgive that in order to embrace everything else in this movie.

MORGUE STORY plays again next Wednesday, June 17 at 7:15 pm.

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 4

Two more movies last Monday night, each with a short.

First up the short THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF MR HOLLOW, which I saw at Dead Channels last year. [CORRECTION: I saw it at Cinequest, it just felt a lot like a movie that should've played at Dead Channels. My apologies] A super-stylish look at what you can see if you look at a photograph very, very carefully.

Then a good ol' grindhouse piece of sleaze, SOMEONE'S KNOCKING AT THE DOOR by Troma alum Chad Ferrin. The movie opens with a medical student alone in his dorm injecting a drug into his veins. Suddenly there's a knock on the door, he gets up and opens it to find a naked woman there. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, they start doing it, and then she turns into a hideous (and male) demon and rapes him to death. The coroner's report says he died of a ruptured colon after being penetrated by a phallus measuring approximately 4 inches in diameter and 14 inches long (If I remember those dimensions correctly. I do remember they don't explain how the coroner determined that). Paranoia and accusations fly among the small circle of medical students who were friends of the deceased. They're all a bit messed up--drug use, rampant sexuality, etc. And they all start getting picked off by the demon one by one. Turns out (we find out), that a few days ago they had gotten together in an old archive room in the hospital, taken this weird drug, and perused the file (and played a tape) of an old pair of patients from the hospital--John and Wilma Hopper. They were a psychotic couple who raped their victims to death, and the hospital psychiatrist had tried to treat them with hypnosis (of course it went poorly). Somehow something they did that night brough the Hoppers back as demons. There's tons of sleazy grindhouse goodness, but the ending kind of annoyed me. Actually, at the time I gave it more credit, but as I think about it more I get more annoyed. I won't give any spoilers, but it's a twist that's been done several times and after you've seen it once it just starts to feel like a cop-out every time.

SOMEONE'S KNOCKING AT THE DOOR plays again Saturday June 13th at 11:45 pm.

Then the next show was all about Japanese American fusion, starting with the short SHOWDOWN OF THE GODZ. A man is so obsessed with Godzilla it's starting to ruin his marriage (although his little girl loves it). So when he's faced with either accepting the ultimate Godzilla trivia challenge or saving his marriage, it's a moment of destiny. Starring George Takei.

And then SAMURAI AVENGER: BLIND WOLF, the "Sushi Western" I saw at Cinequest and immediately recommended to Holehead. Here's what I said about it at the time:
Anyway, the final film was Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf. It was freakin' awesome. A low budget B-movie mashup of a spaghetti western and a samurai epic. Of course, these two genres naturally go together, just ask Akira Kurosawa (and that's the last time I'll compare this to a Kurosawa film). This "Sushi Western" is the desert quest of a blind man looking for vengeance. 8 years ago, a horrible criminal named Nathan Flesher raped and killed his wife, forced him to gouge his own eyes out, and then killed his daughter. He survived, trained, and is out for revenge. There are 7 assassins between him and his goal. Kill each one in turn, then kill Nathan Flesher. He gets some help from the mysterious Drifter (Jeffrey James Lippold,
who was in attendance and had girls in the audience swooning over him). Crazy fun with witches, samurai C-sections, zombie warriors, and hypno-boobies! Yeah, hypno-boobies!
Yeah, and it's still awesome, and it was so gratifying that the rest of the Holehead audience seemed to dig it, and I've gotten some compliments thanking me for it. All glory to the hypno-boobs!

SAMURAI AVENGER: BLIND WOLF plays again Thursday June 11 at 5 pm and Friday June 12 at 7:15 pm.

And by the way, if you liked SAMURAI AVENGER, my other recommendation to Holehead was the other wolf movie, AUDIE AND THE WOLF. It plays this Sunday at 7:15 and next Thursday at 5. The proper way to enjoy it is to grab a big piece of meat and Phucket.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 2

Just three movies last night. That was on a Saturday. This festival is too easy. But one other thing that I love about this year's festival is that most of the features are paired with a short film, including the first two movies last night.

The first short was EVERYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW ABOUT ZOMBIES I LEARNED FROM THE MOVIES. A locally made clever little low budget story of a few survivors cornered by zombies. The know how to survive from watching enough zombie movies. Too bad movies are nothing like reality.

Keeping up with the zombie and zombie-movie theme, the feature was the mockumentary REEL ZOMBIES. David Francis is the hack director of ZOMBIE NIGHT and AWAKENING: ZOMBIE NIGHT 2 (and checking IMDb, those are real movies he directed and they really do suck, so he's got quite a sense of humor about himself to make such a self-mocking movie). Well, his first two movies didn't do so well, and now no one's interested in seeing a zombie movie. Mainly because of the actual real-life zombie apocalypse. But Mike Masters, the produces of the ZOMBIE NIGHT movies gets a brilliant idea. A) after the zombies are defeated, the survivors will want to see zombie movies, and B) they have a perfect opportunity to shoot a zombie movie with perfect realism and no make-up effects--just use real zombies. So they get their old crew together, figure out how to wrangle zombies, and shoot a low-budget, low-competence flick. Of course, the fact that there will be zombie accidents is a foregone conclusion (No professionals here, they wrangle the zombies using loops of straps tied to the end of hockey sticks. Oh yeah, they're Canadian). The real fun is watching how incompetent they are at all other aspects of filmmaking. All of the action is caught by Andrew Fruman, who did the EPK (Electronic Press Kit) for ZOMBIE NIGHT 2. He refuses to call his current effort an EPK, insisting it's a documentary and it's better than anything David is putting on film. And undoubtedly, he's right. He captures a ridiculous comedy of errors, with the no-budget foibles ranging from a DP who only speaks French (and no translator), to inequity in craft service (how come the zombies get meat, but the human actors only get stale rolls and overripe bananas?) Oh yeah, and then of course the zombies get loose and kill everyone. Of course. Hilarious.

REEL ZOMBIES plays again Wednesday, June 10 at 5 pm.

The next show started with the short THE PICK UP. A mysterious sexy blonde is walking along the rode looking for a ride. A man drives up and picks her up. Soon we learn that this was a planned encounter, he had arranged to meet her. Or someone, he was actually expecting a redhead. But still, they go to a motel (of the "hourly rate" variety) where an overly enthusiastic and creepy manager ushers them into their parking spot and ultimately into their room. And then we find out no one is who they seem to be. Looks can be deceiving.

And then a ridiculous celebration of extreme bad taste--BLACK DEVIL DOLL. At the stroke of midnight, militant black power radical Mumia Al-Jabr (or something like that, all those gibberish names sound the same to me) is to be executed at midnight for the rape and murder of a dozen or so white women. Meanwhile, fantastically bit-tittied Heather is alone and bored. Nothing on TV, her slutty best friend is busy at some gang-bang or something. So finally right at the stroke of midnight she starts playing with a Ouija board. And of course, she contacts the spirit of Mumia whose spirit infects a puppet and he becomes the Black Devil Doll. At first despite how he speaks disrespectfully (calling Heather a bitch and worse), Heather still falls for him. After all, it's a perfect match--she's got big ol' white titties and he's got a big ol' black puppet cock. And for a while (at least the length of a montage), it's a beautiful romantic story showing how the power of love can break down any barriers and create a little piece of heaven here on earth. But, of course, he's a man and he can't spend all his time banging the same white ass, so he's gotta get some strange. That's a little hard for a puppet, so he enlists her help. She calls her slutty friends over for a party, gets them all worked up, and then has to leave to "run an errand" (hang out at McDonald's while he does his business. By the way, if they actually got McDonald's to pay for product placement in this movie, that's genius! If they didn't, they should have.) Thing is, she only expected him to have sex with them, not kill them all. But he's got a point, he can't just say, "Hi, I'm a puppet with a big black cock, do me!", killing them seemed to be the easiest way. Hilarious, and I don't think anything can ever count as being offensive ever again.

BLACK DEVIL DOLL plays again next Saturday, June 13 at 5 pm and closes the festival on Thursday, June 18 at 9:30 pm.

And finally, the midnight movie was FRAT HOUSE MASSACRE. This was one of the title's that worried me the most--it sounds like the premise of some trashy stupid bit of exploitation (as opposed to the good, shocking, smart exploitation). So I was surprised to find that this did have some amount of story to it. Not much, but more than I expected. Sean and Bobby are brothers, Sean is a senior in college, Bobby just graduated high school. He's planning to go to the same college, and even pledge Sean's frat (ΔIE, or DIE, get it?) But in the first post-graduation party, he's hit by a drunk driver and put in a coma. Meanwhile, Sean has some problems of his own. Seems the leadership of his frat has gone beyond the normal initiation rituals--straight to murder. Well, right about the time the frat leaders punish (i.e., kill) Sean for his insubordination, Bobby wakens from his coma. That fall, he enrolls, happens to get assigned a dorm room with the frat President's little brother, and decides to pledge ΔIE himself. But shortly after he shows up, frat members start to show up dead. There's a twist or two, and things get really stabby. Sadly, with one exception the murders the frat commits are more interesting than the murders committed against them. Oh yeah, and this is a period piece (1978), which as far as I can tell was either they wanted to have disco music and call cocaine "Disco", or they got their hands on some vintage cars they wanted to show off. And then there's lots of mindless bloodletting, to the point that it gets hard to tell who's who, who's alive, and who's dead. But don't worry, by the end everyone will be dead.

FRAT HOUSE MASSACRE plays again Monday, June 15 at 7:15 pm.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Jason watches DRAG ME TO HELL

So this movie has been advertised as Sam Raimi's glorious return to horror. Here's a dirty little secret--Sam Raimi doesn't make scary movies, he makes comedies dressed up in horror trappings. Now before you misunderstand me, I love Sam Raimi, he's one of my favorite directors. I could watch the EVIL DEAD trilogy over and over again (Yes, even the first one. I'm amazed how often I find myself defending it to people who should love it. Somehow a rumor got out that horror fans aren't supposed to like the first EVIL DEAD, and that's bullshit). It's just I've always been entertained by his movies, but never scared. Personally, I think that's what he's going for, and don't consider it any sort of failing. He's just misclassified as a "horror" director, when he's really an action-comedy director who borrows horror element.

Anyway, couple my fanhood with the fact that it currently has a 93% fresh tomatometer rating (high for any movie, astronomical for a horror film), and I was in for either the greatest horror movie of all time or a major let down. It was closer to major let down. There's a lot that works--basically the gross-out scenes, which again play more comical than scary (and again, I think that's intentional). And there's something gleefully subversive about making a movie all about torturing a nice little Alison Lohman for one little tough-as-nails business decision. I admire a horror movie where the victim doesn't really deserve it. I especially like how as she struggles to remove the curse, she quickly behaves worse and worse until she does deserve it (if I still believed modern horror is political, I'd find an allegory there). But it's all dulled down to a PG-13 rating. And even that wouldn't be bad if it wasn't for a painfully telegraphed final twist.

So in the end, I'd give it praise with some major reservations. I'd still rather Raimi made more horror movies than another Spider-Man movie (especially not more Spider-Jesus movies), but only if he's willing to go further than he did with this one.