Monday, September 28, 2009

Jason previews Docfest 2009 (from a purely mathematical point of view)

The schedule for the SF Documentary Film Festival is finally out!

Here's a simple spreadsheet of the full schedule (click for big enough to read):

Did you notice what was odd about it? If not, then you're not me. How about if I highlight all the movies that are only playing once in green and highlight all the movies playing opposite of those movie in red?

Okay, the point is if you want to see everything you must see the green movies and therefore can't see the red movies. So remove the red lines, and highlight any movie that now has only one remaining show. Repeat as far as you can and...

Wait!? What's with those yellow lines? Well, it turns out, unless I've badly missed the math (please Internet, check my work, tell me I'm wrong, I want to believe!) for the first time since I've started doing this, the guys at Indiefest have programmed a film festival where I can't see everything! Oh, the horror! This represents the closest I could get, and I'd have to choose two movies not to see. Actually, not too bad because I already saw JOHNNY CASH AT FOLSOM PRISON back at Cinequest, so theoretically I'd have to choose one of either I NEED THAT RECORD or THE EARTH IS YOUNG to skip.

Fine, I'll go actually read the film descriptions.

Actually, this is all kind of moot because what with my time at the Niles Film Museum (oh yeah, coming up October 25th: WATCH HORROR FILMS, KEEP AMERICA STRONG with HARDWARE WARS) and the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival there was practically no way I'd see all of Docfest anyway. Oh yeah, and there's that Mill Valley Film Festival coming up, too. Maybe I'll catch some of that.

Anyway, off to buy my Docfest pass now.

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum and sees PECK'S BAD BOY

The 5-week Pleasanton-athon continues, this weekend with Jackie Coogan (decades before he became Uncle Fester on TV).

But first a couple of shorts:

I'M ON MY WAY (1919): Harold Lloyd almost always gets the girl in his movies. Well, this one starts with him already with the girl (it's his wedding day). But a few minutes with his neighbor (who's been married so long he no longer feels pain) and his family convinces him that bachelorhood is the life for him. Very funny.

45 MINUTES FROM HOLLYWOOD (1926): This is notable as the first time Hal Roach put both Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel on screen. However, it's not a Laurel and Hardy movie. In fact, they don't even appear on screen together (although they come within a knocked-down door of appearing together). Instead, the star in Glenn Tryon playing a country boy who comes to Hollywood and has an adventure involving a bank robber posing as an actor playing a bank robber (follow that? It's easier in the movie itself).

And then finally the feature. PECK'S BAD BOY (1921): Jackie Coogan was the original child star, although his career was nearly cut short by a fractured head while filming this movie shortly after his debut in Chaplin's THE KID. As it is, this is the precursor to Bart Simpson, Dennis the Menace, all the "little mischievous scamp" stories, and based on a series of stories by George W. Peck in the late 1800's. The movie introduces the main characters--his loving mother, his long-suffering father, his beautiful sister, and the bad boy himself--Henry Peck--first seen running from a lion he just released from the circus. Mostly the story is a series of funny adventures (sometimes touching, like when he spends his church money on an ice cream cone for a little girl after bullies steal hers). But things get interesting when a handsome doctor comes to town and starts dating his sister. Unfortunately, his dad is working on a big deal with an inventor and an important document has gone missing. Turns out Peck's mischief might have gone too far. It's a pretty funny movie and although the overall story arc kinda meanders, there's always some wacky antics to keep you entertained.

Jason watches THE WEEKEND KING

At the Niles Film Museum, but watching a modern, talkie movie. What the deal?

Well, the deal is this is a local, independent movie featuring Niles standing in for a bankrupt town in Utah and Niles locals like Michael McNevin, Bruce Cates (film museum board member), and Jack Totheroh (son of Rollie Totheroh and now perhaps the record holder for longest film career--he played a baby in a Gilbert Anderson movie in 1915...and now this).

So the movie is about a shlub--Rupert is a (not very good) computer programmer, who secretly made a bundle in the boom of the 90's. But he still works a job where he's not respected...because he's not very good. His only sorta-friend is Tom (director Bill Levesque) who also works there (and carpools with him) but really wants to be an artist. He spends his free time getting drunk and painting erotic (okay, smutty) pictures of women (ummm...touching themselves). Well, Rupert has a plan--he's been following the story of a town in Utah going bankrupt, and he offers them a solution--he'll simply buy the town. At least, he'll buy all the government building and remake the town in his image--with a fountain! (although I don't know, it's not much of a fountain town). Enter Niles as that bankrupt town, and Rupert starts spending all his weekends there. Trouble is, although everyone appreciates what he's done, nobody really likes him. Probably because instead of the powerless schmo he is back home, here he's a big man jerk. Wacky hijinx ensue, and I won't give any more away. Beyond just the fun of identifying local landmarks, it's also a pretty funny movie.

It's definitely low-budget and made by people who are still learning to make movies. The acting, lighting, or sound are not up to professional standards, but are more than adequate for someone who (like me) watches a lot of low-budget indie movies. And it's fun.

Okay, that's it.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Jason drinks Guinness, goes to a drive-in for "Mythbusters", slips into a Vortex for HEAD, and watches PARANORMAL ACTIVITY

Best four-part Thursday night mini-adventure in San Francisco ever.

First up, happy 250th anniversary to Guinness, that sublime blend of Bog Water and Chocolate Syrup (thank you, "Simpsons"). I joined a few friends to celebrate at the Irish Bank and had a few regular Guinness Stouts and a couple pints of the special 25oth anniversary Guinness. A good dark stout like Guinness, but actually carbonated (instead of nitrogenated). Yeah, a Guinness but you can taste the bubbles in it. Rather good.

Well, then I hopped into Ira's car (still dusty from Burning Man, that stuff never disappears) and headed over to the MobMov mobile movie drive-in. Last Thursday they were at an empty parking lot at 17th and Folsom. They played a short old Max Fleischer "Superman" cartoon and then the main event--the season premiere of "Mythbusters" (the rest of you suckers have to wait for October 7th to see this). They the classic Freshman Physics myth that if you drop a bullet and shoot a bullet perfectly horizontal from the same height they'll hit the ground at exactly the same time. After some slower tests (including proving that paintballs aren't aerodynamic enough to work) and some fiddling around with the mechanism to synchronize the start of the fired and dropped bullet, they got them to land in the same frame within 39 mS of each other--pretty darn close. Gravity isn't just a good idea--it's the law! Meanwhile, the build team tested the idiom "knock your socks off". Can you knock Buster out of his socks without killing him. Of course, this is just an excuse to abuse Buster, and eventually we get to the explosives. There's never any doubt this would be busted, but they sure had a lot of destructive fun trying to confirm it.

While there, we met a lot of cool MobMov people, but the coolest by far were the ones who were cooking pizza on a barbecue grill in the parking lot. People who feed me are cool. They still have some work to do on the technique, getting the toppings (the classic mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce, and basil) cooked without burning the crust. But it was still the best parking-lot barbecued pizza I've ever had. Thanks, guys!

Then adventure #3 of the night, over to the Vortex room for a martini and HEAD. Ummm, that is HEAD, the movie starring the Monkees. It's a weird, stream-of consciousness bit of psychadelia. I can't really tell you what it's about. Partly because I slept through quite a bit of it, but mostly because it makes no sense and is completely stream of consciousness. It's the Monkees being weird, and riffing on their personae (including how they're a manufactured pop band).

And finally, adventure #4 was over at the Castro, where there was a line around the block for a midnight sneak preview of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. That is, it was supposed to start at midnight, it actually started ~12:45. For some back story, this movie played at Slamdance last year, where it was bought up by DreamWorks to remake it. As a result, it was pulled from other festivals who had programmed it. Or, at least, DreamWorks asked that they pull it. Cinequest did, Indiefest did not. So I got to see it back then, and here's what I wrote about it back then:
Then it was back to the Roxie for "Paranormal Activity". This movie is fucking awesome! On the surface, it's a simple ghost story [note: that should be "demon story]. A young couple moves into a new house (in San Diego, but that's not really important). All was well until the wife Katie believes the house is haunted, possibly by the same spirits that haunted her as a kid. To assuage her fears, her husband Micah sets up a video camera in their bedroom to watch them while they sleep. This movie is all made of their home videos (new trend hitting the mainstream, what with "Cloverfield" and "Diary of the Dead"?) And it's a slow buildup. There's a good 30 minutes before the first "scare", and that's a door moving 2 inches back and forth [Note: I exaggerated, it moves a couple of feet]. Could be the wind, but all the windows were closed! But the sloooooow buildup continues, and without giving anything away I'll say by the end it was kicking everyone's ass. The slow build is absolutely vital for building up the realism, and although 30 minutes of not much happening might sound boring, it's absolutely vital. I haven't heard real screams like this in a theater in quite a while, and this is a jaded Indiefest midnight audience. Wow!
I also wrote an open letter to DreamWorks at the time:
Gentlemen, you've picked up a wonderful property, now please don't fuck it up! I'm not a hard-liner who's against remakes. Honestly, I'm curious to see how you will handle this material (I have a hard time believing a major studio will give the audience enough credit to go 30 minutes just to see a door move back and forth as the first "scare", but we'll see how it goes). I liked the original enough that nothing short of universally awful reviews will keep me from seeing your remake. With that said, please don't keep the original version hidden forever. I'm still displeased you got it pulled from Cinequest. I was looking forward to running around Cinequest telling everyone to see it, now I'll have to run around telling everyone how awesome it was and how they should cry because they don't get to see it. Anyway, I just want to beg you (seriously, I'm on my knees as I type this), please please please pleeeeease! After you've had fun with your remake, please release the original version in some form. Perhaps a special edition DVD with both versions? Because this movie is excellent, and if you hide this away the world of cinema will be missing a treasure. Thank you for listening to me.
Well, then DreamWorks was bought by Paramount, and they're releasing the original version (with some small changes, more on that later). I assume/hope the remake idea is shelved, and they'll let this movie thrive in distribution. And while I'm on the subject, they're doing something a little different with the distribution--they're letting the Internet buzz determine where it gets played. If you want it to play near you, click here to go to the film's website and click on the "Demand It!" button and enter your location. Cities that get the most demand, presumably get the movie on the big screen.

But back to last Thursday's screening. As I said, it was supposed to be a midnight movie, but it didn't start until well after. Luckily I was on Indiefest's list, so even though the line was around the block I did get to cut enough of the line to still get my front row center seat. There were a couple of guys there to introduce the movie, and then film rolled...

Starting with Harry Knowles annoying face talking about how he freaked out at every sound in his house at night after seeing it. Whatever. Perhaps I was just tired, pissy that the movie was starting late and kicking myself because I'd get hardly any sleep before going to work the next day, but all I could think of was 'get this fat sack of shit off the screen so we can watch the fucking movie already!'

And then the movie started, and I was immediately glad I was there. They changed very few things for the most part. There's one note of Paramount thanking the participants in this movie that obviously wasn't there before. I'm pretty sure they added the keys scene, and maybe her smile when she decides to stay home instead of fleeing to a hotel. I did notice that Micah is a kinda giant douche-bag. I think that was always the case, but it definitely stuck out more in my mind this time. And then the ending--that was changed a lot. No spoilers here, but it's now more Hollywood. It's still effective, but very different (and allows for the possibility of a sequel...okay, that's the closest you get to a spoiler). And although I like the original ending better, seeing it once like that was really cool because it gave someone like me who's seen it before something to make me jump.

As for the rest of the audience, just like last time a jaded midnight audience was screaming. Awesome. This movie totally works.

And then home, 2.5 hours of sleep (it was worth it), and then off to work. What a Thursday night!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Jason watches EXTRACT

And it's OFFICE SPACE from the boss's perspective. Or, at least it's about Joel (Jason Bateman) who's unhappy at work and at home (because he spends too much time at work and can't get back in time to spend any time with his wife). So he spends all his time at a bar talking to a very unhelpful drug-addled bartender (Ben Affleck, actually in a really good role) and getting into crazy shenanigans.

The kicker, Joel is the boss. He makes flavor extracts, and he owns his own company, but things still aren't working to his satisfaction. He hopes to sell out to General Mills, retire, and finally live the life of luxury. A freak accident, a lawsuit (with Gene Simmons as a flamboyant lawyer), and a beautiful con-woman Cindy (Mila Kunis) conspire to make his life more difficult. Plus, that drug-addled bartender convinces him to hire a gigolo to tempt his wife just to see if she'd be faithful (the idea being if she isn't, he can have an affair with Cindy guilt-free). Got that?

Doesn't matter. Mike Judge, in his short live-action big-screen career (OFFICE SPACE and IDIOCRACY. Of course, he also did "Beavis and Butt-Head" on TV and the big screen and "King of the Hill" on TV) has earned a reputation for making very funny movies that so displease the corporate masters that they get released to very few theaters with no advertising and only hopes of gaining a cult following (which his previous movies did). So it's easy to predict that when EXTRACT is getting advertised quite a bit it means he's probably toned down the corporate satire to the point where it's palatable to the bosses (i.e., bland to his audience). And well, it kinda is. It's not the same sharp corporate/cultural satire we've seen before. But it's still very funny, in large part because of a great comic cast.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Jason watches JENNIFER'S BODY

Hell is a teenage girl....

I don't feel like writing a long review. Suffice to say parts of it's made me laugh, none of it scared me, and most of it just reminded me how much I hate teenagers. It shoulda gone for more (intentional) comedy.

Jason watches 9

That is, the movie "9", not 9 movies or something.

Anyway, it's an inherently difficult proposition to try and make a story in which the characters are non-human, not even animals, and try to have the same emotional connection as if they were human. WALL-E is the gold standard of this, and 9 doesn't come close. It's visually very entertaining, and moves pretty briskly (the movie clocks in at just under 80 minutes). In fact, it's probably too brisk, not enough time to get to know and care about the little burlap sack critters, each imbued with a life force from a now-dead scientist. It's just not much of a story-wise or character-wise. There's a machine they must fight, there's a talisman that's the secret to it all, and there's a "beware of weapons technology, it will turn on you" back story that's pretty obvious (how many "the robots turned against us" stories are there now? And by the way, does anyone care about the irony of a computer-animated anti-technology screed?) If the soul of humanity is destined to be carried in these little one-dimensional burlap sack critters, why even bother?

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM

And the crowd was as big as any non-comedy shorts night I've ever seen. Guess the combination of local interest (it was shot in Pleasanton), a famous book, and America's Sweetheart Mary Pickford is a pretty good draw.

Anyway, first a few shorts

MABEL, FATTY, AND THE LAW (1915): A Keystone comedy, and Fatty Arbuckle is always funny. In this one, he plays a not-quite philandering, but definitely flirtatious husband. Apologizing to the wife with a walk in the park, they both get in a bit more trouble. Although it's pretty odd for him to be arrested for having an ice cream cone with a lady who's not his wife. Different time, indeed.

THE PERILS OF PAULINE: THE DEADLY TURNING (1914): The Perils of Pauline was the biggest danger serial of its time. In this one, she enters an automobile race, but a rival plots to cause her to crash. Of course she escapes just fine, but this one was all build up, just a little bit of racing, and a very abrupt ending.

They also played a third bonus short, this one a behind-the-scenes newsreel from a studio, but for the life of me I forgot which studio. Not much of a plot, just people moving around setting up shots for a movie. It was pretty interesting watching how quickly the stage hands put up a set.

Then, after an intermission, the feature.

REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM (1917): As I said, this was filmed in Pleasanton (first in a 5-week series of movies shot in Pleasanton, and one of the first features shot there). I've also already mentioned that it's based on a famous book and stars Mary Pickford--America's Sweetheart. Pickford plays Rebecca, who--to ease her family's financial trouble--is adopted by her heartless aunts. They're totally immune to her whimsical charm, as she makes new friends and new enemies, and gets into all sorts of wacky trouble. Pickford definitely has the charm to carry the picture, and she's in full sweetheart mode here. The circus scene alone is more than worth the price of admission--just awesome.

As I said, there's another month of filmed-in-Pleasanton movies, continuing next week with Jackie Coogan in PECK'S BAD BOY (1921)

Jason slips into a Vortex for VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS and VALLEY OF THE DOLLS

Okay, some quick updates, I'm catching up. Anyway, last Thursday was the penultimate night in the Vortex Room's "Youth Gone Wild!!!" series (which ends this Thursday with HEAD and FOOTLOOSE). I had many martinis and a few beers (actually trying to be drunk this time, not just relaxed), so I don't remember the movies all that well. But I had a great time, as far as I know.

VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS, I remember teenagers growing huge, thanks to a foamy drink invented by Genius, who was played by a little kid who I think will do big things--Ron Howard.

VALLEY OF THE DOLLS--not to be confused with the Ebert-scripted soft-porno BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS. Hmmm...I remember women. Aspiring actresses. Getting in trouble. Drugs.... I think that's about it.

And that was last Thursday at the Vortex.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for Comedy Shorts Night--September 12th, 2009

Of course, it's always good to be back at my local silent film hangout, and even more when it's Comedy Shorts Night. But one little quibble--they played a trio of sea-faring flicks a week early. Talk Like a Pirate Day is next Saturday, September 19th (Aaarrrrr! And I'll be annoying as heck while working there). Anyway, on to the movies:

THE VAGABOND (1916): Charlie Chaplin plays the violin, accidentally steals some money, gets chased, and meets and woos a beautiful gypsy girl (Edna Purviance), all with his characteristic comedy. Best scene--washing the face.

CAPTAIN KIDD'S KIDS (1919): Harold Lloyd loses his chance at his special girl (Bebe Daniels) when his bachelor party gets a little too wild. When you end up a prisoner of a shipful of woman pirates, you know that was a good party.

THE LOVE NEST (1923): Another tale of lost love, Buster Keaton hopes to forget his girl with an around-the-world trip in a small boat, "Cupid". He's picked up by whalers, but I'll pretend they're pirates. In any case, he has a few scrapes with the short-tempered captain (who has a habit of throwing his crewmen overboard and tossing a funeral wreath after them). Fortunately, he escapes, unfortunately, he escapes to a Naval firing range.

SAILOR'S BEWARE (1927): And finally, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy star, but before they were officially a team. Ollie is a steward aboard a cruise ship. Stan is a simple, honest taxi driver who ends up accidentally stowing away. On board (his fare, in fact) is a pair of con artists--a woman and her dwarf husband who dresses as a baby to steal from people. After getting suckered in a game of dice, Stan ends up foiling their plot.

And that's that, another fine set of comedies on the busiest night of the month at the Niles Film Museum. Next week, the "filmed in Pleasanton" series starts with REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM (1917) and the shorts MABEL, FATTY, AND THE LAW (1915) and THE PERILS OF PAULINE: DEADLY TURNING (1914).

Jason slips into a Vortex and spends some time with a BEAT GIRL

After Burning Man, the only way to ease back into movie watching is going to my favorite semi-secret underground cult film club, the Vortex Room. Of course, I took it easy last Thursday--just a couple martinis, a few beers, and one movie.

That movie was BEAT GIRL, from 1959. It's the story of a young woman and her new stepmother. Dad brought home a sexy new wife from Paris, and of course his daughter rebels. And that rebellion gets more interesting when she learns her new stepmother used to be a stripper (working for a very young Christopher Lee). Beyond a young Lee, there's also a teenage Oliver Reed (okay, he was 22 at the time, but he was playing a teenager--credited only as "plaid shirt"). Of course, given the time no actual stripping is shown, and it's mostly kitschy nowadays. But it was still good drunken fun.

Join us next Thursday night at the Vortex for a size-defying double-bill of VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS and VALLEY OF THE DOLLS.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Jason Burns the Man

And more important, I guess, is that I made it home from Burning Man safely.

I had a great week mostly staying in camp alternating between drinking and passing out. The abortion clinic had record business--we gave out 500 vodka-jello filled fetuses (feti?) and three 2-gallon buckets of medical waste over the course of the week.

But enough about me, what happens in Burning Man stays at Burning Man (except for the STD's). If you wanna learn more, come out and Burn with me next year.

I'll just leave you with this. The parts I remembered were a lot of fun, but apparently I also got a bit of ass that I don't remember: