Saturday, December 18, 2010

Jason watches TRON: LEGACY in IMAX 3-D

And I liked it in much the same way I liked the original. It's dazzling nerd-eye candy, it's fun, and it makes no sense. For years I've had a secret desire to apply for an IT job with the only qualifications on my resume being "watched TRON about 50 times."

There are clever ideas in this sequel--evolution of computer programs, fascism, Zen, crossing the border from the computer to the real world, father-son relationships, etc. Of course, they aren't fully developed and they make no sense, and in my geek bubble I don't give a damn. I know if I could step back and be objective, there's plenty to criticize and be disappointed with in TRON: LEGACY, but as it is I would watch it again.

Running Time: 127 minutes
My Total Minutes: 218,045

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Jason watches 127 HOURS

And let's get this out of the way--yes, there's an explicit scene of Aron Ralston (James Franco) cutting his own arm off. It's bloody and intense, but just short of ridiculous.

This is based on the true story of Aron Ralston, outdoors-man and adventurer who got his hand pinned under a rock in a canyon and was trapped for 127 hours before he cut his hand off and walked to rescue. As for the movie, James Franco is impressive in a role that really calls for him to carry pretty much everything. It starts off at a breakneck pace as he's racing through the Utah desert on bike and on foot. He meets a couple of girls, goes swimming with them in an amazing underground lake, and then eventually takes off (after getting an invitation to a party the next night). And then everything stops when he gets trapped.

At this point you'd think the movie would slow down. He literally can't move, so up until the end the rest of the movie is either in his head or down in the canyon where he's trapped. But Danny Boyle seems physically unable to slow down, and has to throw about a million quick cuts, flashbacks, hallucinations, and various camera tricks at the audience. Yeah, it kept it from being boring, at the expense of being frequently annoying. Yes, it's a pretty amazing film, but I was left wondering what it would be like to see a more straightforward film just of a man trapped under a rock and dealing with it, without all the fancy shit. And yeah, that might be boring for 90 minutes, so maybe I'd like to see a 20 minute short of it instead, whatever. I don't know how to end this post.

Running Time: 94 minutes
My Total Minutes: 217,918

Jason watches BLACK SWAN

And let's get this out of the way first--yes, there's an explicit scene of Mila Kunis going down on Natalie Portman. It's hot, but tasteful, and not at all pornographic. And it's a very small part of the movie.

As for the rest of it, yeah, it's pretty great. It's a tight psycho-sexual drama, and there's some effectively heavy-handed use of visual themes of reflection and transformation. As for a story, it's the story of "Swan Lake," taking place in a troupe of ballet dancers preparing to perform "Swan Lake." Confession, I don't actually know the original story of "Swan Lake," but I trust that the synopsis given in the movie is accurate. And as theater director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) says, although it's been done to death, they're going to do it raw, visceral, and "real" (remember that). Natalie Portman plays Nina Sayers, a perfectionist ballerina, who is still a little innocent girl. Leroy promises that if he were only casting the Swan Queen, it would definitely be her, but the lead also has to play her evil, seductive twin the Black Swan. She gets the role after talking to him in private, which leads to all sorts of rumors and recriminations from the cast. More importantly, a new dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis) joins the cast. She's a free spirit from San Francisco, and although not as polished as Nina she easily gives herself over to the dance, and becomes her alternate. And friend, and rival, and object of desire, and tormentor.

Beautiful, great acting, and a polished, confidant direction, but I was at a bit of a loss to get what it all adds up to, or why I should care. There's the pretty obvious theme that to become the Black Swan (i.e., to become an adult, with all the sexual, fleshy degradation that entails) necessarily means the destruction of the innocent Swan Queen. But there's also a climax that suggests it's just as much about suffering for your art, which led me to wonder that if Darren Aronofsky actually believes in sacrificing for your art, why doesn't he kill himself? Oops--Spoiler Alert.

Running Time: 108 minutes
My Total Minutes: 217,824

Jason hosts bad movie night and watches IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE

Because this beloved Christmas classic needs to be taken down a peg, and I was just the drunken bastard to do it.

It takes way to long to get to the memorable part; Pottersville looks a hell of a lot more fun than Bedford Falls; it makes sport of suicide, molesting librarians, and a little girl looking at her "flower."And the grand finales celebrates teaching religion in school. Ah, simple times!

Running Time: 130 minutes
My Total Minutes: 217,564

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for WILD ORANGES

Plus, of course, a couple of shorts.

THE FORTUNE TELLER (1923): Another Koko The Clown "Out of the Inkwell" short, this time Koko plays with a fortune teller who is visiting the Fleischer studio. Some wackiness, some card tricks, good times.

CURSES (1925): Al St. John plays the baddie in this spoof of action serials that's a favorite here at Niles.

Then an intermission, and the main feature.

WILD ORANGES (1924): King Vidor directed this fine melodrama. John Woolfolk (Frank Mayo) lost his fiance in car accident, and will never love again. Instead he finds solace in the sea. Then he puts ashore on a remote island. Millie Stope (Virginia Valli) lives there with her grandfather. But they're not alone, there's also an escaped killer on the island. He has an eye for Millie, and he wants John to leave. He threatens them both, just as John falls for Millie. John tries to leave, but can't stay away, and returns for one of the best drawn out knock-down brawls I've seen on film.

Total Running Time (estimated): 104 minutes
My Total Minutes: 217,434

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum--Dec 4

Here we go:

KOKO'S FIELD DAZE (1922): Koko and his dog pal compete in a track and field "field day" events, of course sabotaging each other. And then they jump off the page into the Fleisher's cartoonist's Field Day, where they sabotage that, too. Hilarious.

IT'S A GIFT (1923): Snub Pollard stars as an inventor with hilarious Rube Goldberg devices (on a more modern take, I felt like I was watching Wallace and Gromit at times). His magnet-powered car might even be the solution to the oil crisis.

AIR POCKETS (1924): Little known forgotten comic Lige Conley (I had never heard of him before) stars also as an inventor, and one with a unique automobile. His is collapsible. Lot's of crazy antics, a climactic (and not at all realistic) airplane chase. Funny, although some of the racist elements are pretty uncomfortable to modern audiences.

Then a brief intermission, and our feature presentation.

HUMAN HEARTS (1922): An epic melodrama starring ruggedly handsome House Peters. He plays Tom Logan, son of "Paw" Logan, founder of Loganville. He's the strongest, handsomest, most eligible bachelor, and when Paw dies and Tom gets his inheritance, he'll be the richest. So a scheming con-woman plots to seduce him (best line, from Paw who sees right through her from the start: "Nothing good comes from a woman who flirts.") However, she never counted on actually falling for him. So much so that she marries him even when Paw cuts him out of the will (he really, really doesn't approve, and is unrealistically stubborn). Things get worse when her partner-in-crime shows up, leading to Paw's murder, Tom getting framed, and things generally turning very, very bad.

I thought the story had promise, and despite a few glaring errors (one young man is diagnosed with a "he'll be okay" with a minor scalp wound before the same doctor reveals he's brain-damaged and will have the mind of a child for life) it was a pretty good story. It was just really long. Actually, it was 70 minutes, but it felt like a lot more.

Running Time: 110 minutes (estimated)
My Total Minutes: 217,330

Jason watches THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC with the Voices of Light

I can't believe I've lived here in the Bay Area for over 10 years and I've never before been to the Paramount Theatre in Oakland. Well, that's been rectified, and that place is freakin' beautiful! 'Nuf said.

As for the movie, of course THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC is a classic. I can't say much that hasn't been said much more intelligently before. I hadn't known before that it was based on actual court records of Joan's trial that were discovered only a few years before Dreyer made the movie. Of course the extensive use of closeups, the stark sets and the contrasts with the dynamic camera movement and editing are remarkable cinematic achievements. I had forgotten the wild riot scene at the end, which was nearly as impressive as the rest of the film.

But what made the performance was the live score--a 22 piece orchestra and 180 voice choir. It was powerful, soulful score, and the perfect balance of voices and orchestra. The voices were primary (the notes said that the idea was since Joan heard voices the score would be based on voices. Sometimes just a few female voices for Joan, and sometimes all voices filling the theatre. The instrumentals complemented the voices perfectly, never overpowering. Just beautiful.

I should note that I am by no means religious (in fact, I identify as atheist), but I can appreciate the power of this film and this score, and I understand and sympathize with those who say this is a powerfully religious experience.

Total Running Time: 110 minutes
My Total Minutes: 217,220

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Jason goes to Bad Movie Night and watched THE RUNNING MAN

So named because it's like a constant dribble of diarrhea. Get it, "running" as in "the runs?" It's a poop joke! And that's all this movie deserves.

But at least with Jesse Ventura we get a little Governor-on-Governor action.

Running Time: 101 minutes
My Total Minutes: 216,908

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum--Nov 27

A quick rundown of Thanksgiving weekend at the Edison Theatre.

KOKO'S THANKSGIVING (1925): A Fleischer "Out of the Inkwell" production, where Koko runs the projector and shows clips of his previous adventures to Fleischer's Thanksgiving guests.

NEVER TOUCHED ME (1919): Harold Lloyd and Snub Pollard fight over the attention of the lovely Bebe Daniels. Basic slapstick, not one of Lloyd's more inventive films.

ONLY ME (1929): Lupino Lane in a tour de force of multiple roles. I think he plays upwards of 20 roles here, as a patron of the Palace Theatre, all of the performers, an annoying prank-pulling kid, and others. Hilarious.

Then a brief intermission, and the feature:

FEEL MY PULSE (1928): The lovely Bebe Daniels is back, as an heiress who has been raised to be a hypochondriac. Several medicines daily and avoid all excitement that might agitate her heart--that's the regimen. Her uncle has other plans, he thinks she needs excitement and so he'll take her to his ranch. Well that won't do, but she remembers she inherited a sanitarium on a secluded island. That's the perfect place to escape to and live a life of relaxation. Or so she thought. Turns out in the absence of any oversight it's become a front for bootleggers, and seems nearly nightly is raided by hijackers. Adventure, action, comedy, and even some romance ensue. All things that agitate the heart. Of course, it turns out that's good for her.

Total Running Time (estimated, since I couldn't find running times for the first two): 121 minutes
My Total Minutes: 216,807

Jason watches JOHANNA

Once again, I've fallen over a week behind in my reviews. In any case, thanks to my fellow blogger and twitter follower Brian Darr (of Hell on Frisco Bay) for giving me a head's up about this amazing film. It was the second half of a Orsi Toth double feature at the Roxie (the first was DELTA, but I didn't get up there in time to see it).

In a way, it's appropriate I didn't write this up until seeing THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC at the Paramount (more on that later), since it's sort of an operatic re-invention of the Joan of Arc story. At least in as much as the titular Johanna is passionate, possibly crazy, but helps a lot of people and is beloved for it by the people and hated by the authorities. Big difference, she's not leading the French Army, she's a drug addict rescued from a near death experience who then cures all the patients in the hospital--by sleeping with them. The head doctor becomes infatuated with her, but since he's not ill she won't sleep with him--her body is only for comforting and healing the sick. And so a final showdown of the hospital staff vs. the patients is imminent.

I really don't have much more to say, other than it was pretty amazing. Oh, and to admit I got the Joan of Arc connection from IMDb, but once it's pointed out I can't see it any other way.

Running Time: 86 minutes
My Total Minutes: 216,686

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jason goes to bad movie night and watches FIRESTARTER

And I admit I needed a little firewater to get me through it.

This is a story about how anyone who messes around with Drew Barrymore (I'm looking at you, super-creepy George C. Scott) gets punished with an intense burning sensation.

Yeah, I know Drew was only 9 years old at the time, and that's creepy, but you know she was already a coked-up whore back then. I applaud how well she's turned herself around.

Running Time: 114 minutes (but it felt a lot longer)
My Total Minutes: 216,418

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for comedy shorts night--Nov 20, 2010

Man, that place was packed! I thought the rain storm would keep a few people away, but I'm lucky I got there early. And, of course, the movies delivered (as did Greg Pane on the piano)

THE VAGABOND (1916): Charlie Chaplin in his Tramp character helps a poor, friendless girl (Niles favorite Edna Purviance) who has been stolen by gypsies. He fights off her captors, washes her face (in the most hilarious scene), and is ready to settle down with her. But a rival enters the picture, a painter who makes her famous.

NEVER WEAKEN (1921): Harold Lloyd does his best to help his girlfriend and her boss's struggling osteopathy business. And he succeeds, but he also overhears her talking with a man about marrying her. Distraught, he decides to end it all, but doesn't have the guts. And then dizzying high-rise girder acrobatic hijinx ensue. And those scenes always get to me. Hilarious, and truly tense and exciting.

Then a brief intermission

HIGH RISE (1921): Buster Keaton didn't actually like this film, but his friend and mentor Rosco "Fatty" Arbuckle loved it. Faking his way through a sharpshooting job in an amusement park, he gets inducted into the Blinking Buzzards, and is given the job of assassinating a businessman who's late on a payment. He's also hired by the very same businessman as a bodyguard. And with the house tricked out with all sorts of secret passages and trapdoors (for his safety), you know Keaton's trademark acrobatic wackiness will ensue.

SUGAR DADDIES (1927): And finally, The Boys, Laurel and Hardy. This was just before they were really a comedy team, they just happened to be appearing in a lot of the same Hal Roach movies, but Roach hadn't figured out to team them up yet. Their longtime foil/co-star Jim Finlayson gets equal billing, and stars as a rich tycoon who wakes up after a bender and is informed by his butler (Hardy) that he was married last night. Not only does he not want that, but it's really all a scam by his "wife" and her cohorts to steal his money. So he calls his lawyer (Laurel) to fix it. But nothing will be fixed before Finlayson ends up running through an amusement park with Laurel on his back, dressed up as a very tall woman. You know, to be inconspicuous. Hilarious. I think Mr. Roach should team these guys up more often!

Total Running Time: 94 minutes
My Total Minutes: 216,304


At a special sneak preview showcasing the San Francisco Landmark Theatres' new calendar. Lots of cool stuff coming up, but last Thursday was all about this twisted Christmas flick from Finland. The locals are pissed about the crazy American corporation that is drilling for archaeological relics in their mountain. But if they thought it was bad that they were disturbing the wolves and ruining the reindeer hunt (oh yeah, the heroes are reindeer hunters), just wait until they unearth the most amazing Christmas legend ever. You see, the Santa Claus created by Coca-Cola wasn't the real one. The real one was a demon who wasn't so interested in giving children presents, he was more interested in punishing naughty children. And now he's back. Pretty awesome, although I will say I wanted a bit more of a reveal at the end. Although to say anything more would be too much of a spoiler.

Running Time: 80 minutes
My Total Minutes: 216,210

Saturday, November 20, 2010


I've now finished the movie version of Stieg Larsson's "Millenium" trilogy, just as I've started reading the first one. This one picks up right where THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE left off. Lisbeth is in the hospital and awaiting trial for three murders just as soon as she's well enough. This time Mikael Blomkvist is working to save her. There's less physical action in this movie, so it's a tribute to the full, rich characters Larsson created (and to Noomi Rapace's performance) that a story that takes place mostly in her mind and her motivations is still gripping. In order to win her trial, she has to let go and open up about her traumatic past. My favorite scene is simply her totally punked-up appearance in court. Not just because she looks bad-ass, but because of the psychological implications--she's putting on a form of armor so that she can be vulnerable in public. Just brilliant.

Running Time: 147 minutes
My Total Minutes: 216,130

Monday, November 15, 2010

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for BLOCK-HEADS and MALICE IN THE PALACE

The monthly Afternoon with the Boys was part of our Vernon Dent weekend, celebrating the release of Bill Cassara's new book VERNON DENT: STOOGE HEAVY.

First up, MALICE IN THE PALACE (1949), one of my favorite stooge flicks, and probably my favorite Shemp. Vernon Dent plays "Hassan Ben Sober" in this goofy caper where the stooges run a restaurant and come across a plot to steal Rootin Tootin's diamond. A bit of trivia, Curly (who was recovering from a stroke) was supposed to play the cook, making this one of the very few 3 Stooges movies with 4 stooges (the only one is HOLD THAT LION, where Curly plays an uncredited sleeping passenger on a train and does his trademark snoozing noises). There was even production material made advertising it but ultimately he was too weak to stay in the film, so Larry filled in as the cook, and did a fine job. Get it? Larry...did a Fine job? Ha! I'm hilarious!

Then, after a brief intermission, the feature was BLOCK-HEADS (1938): Stan is the kind of loyal but not-too-bright WWI soldier that when he's told to guard the trench while everyone else attacks, he does just that until he's relieved. 30 years later, he shoots down an aviator that he mistakes for a German, and he learns the war is over. His old war pal Ollie sees his picture in the paper and goes to visit him. Ollie is now happily married, by which I mean he's totally whipped and lives in fear of his wife. Stan causes all sorts of problems, culminating in blowing up the kitchen and getting into a little trouble with the neighbor's wife, Mrs. Gilbert (in a setup that's copied from their earlier WE FAW DOWN (1928)). Very funny.

Total Running Time: 73 minutes
My Total Minutes: 215,983

Jason watches DUE DATE

And it's just...not...very...good. No chemistry between the stars, I never really cared about either of them. There was one drug scene that was visually engaging, but that's about the only part of the movie that's at all memorable. It not only slows down my process of becoming a Zach Galifianakis fan, it also somewhat diminished my fandom of Robert Downey, Jr.

Running Time: 100 minutes
My Total Minutes: 215,910

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Jason goes to the Bal Theatre for a Buster Keaton double feature

This was my first time at the Bal Theatre in San Leandro, and I love finding new theaters. And this, of course, was a great way to get acquainted with this beautiful old theater.

I won't say much about these movies, they're the Buster Keaton classics THE GENERAL (the epic about the Civil War where Keaton plays a Southern engineer who saves his train, his girl, and his town from the Union Army) and STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. (where Keaton is the weak college-boy son of a tough Steamboat captain and he saves everyone from a major storm). They're hilarious, they feature Keaton's fantastic acrobatic comedy, and they make for a great night. If you haven't seen them, see them as soon as you can (preferably on the big screen, but of course they're available on DVD).

Matt Hoffman made his debut accompanying silent films, and he did a fantastic job.

As a matter of honesty and completeness, I do have to mention that the aspect ratio was wrong for this screening. I talked to the theater owner and this was due to their 1080p projector being broken (due to a failed firmware update), but I'm assured it will be fixed...soon, so future shows should be right. It still looked good even with the standard projector, but film geeks like me noticed the aspect ratio was off.

Total Running Time: 177 minutes
My Total Minutes: 215,810

Jason goes to Jewfest South--Wednesday, Nov 10

One double feature last Wednesday, let's do this quickly.

First up, LEAVING THE FOLD, a fascinating documentary about Jews who were brought up ultra-orthodox, but have decided to leave. We meet several of them, and I certainly at least half-understand their motives. I was never ultra-orthodox anything (never even religious anything), and love the freedom to try new ideas and constantly refine/redefine the way I understand the world. But the most interesting character is actually the father who sees both his sons walk away from the faith. What's interesting is how he doesn't react with anger or ultimatums. He's disappointed, but still loves his sons, still has them over for Sabbath dinner, and makes a remarkably intelligent case both for the orthodox lifestyle and for treating loved ones who leave the fold with respect and love, all the while hoping, praying, and trying to convince them to come back.

And the second half of the show was GUT SHABBES, VIETNAM. Rabbi Menachem Hartman is from the Chabad-Lubavich movement. They send rabbis all over the world, no matter how remote. As long as they know some Jews live there, they will send someone to live there and bring them back to the fold. And that's how Rabbi Hartman, his wife Racheli, and his baby son Levi moved to Ho Chi Minh City. Immediate culture clashes, of course, but they carry the faith, find the local Jews, and start teaching and cooking kosher. It's just a weird experience, and oddly a demonstration of just how adaptable Jewish traditions can be to just about any culture.

Total Running Time: 105 minutes
My Total Minutes: 215,633

Jason goes to Jewfest South--Sunday, November 7

Two more movies last Sunday, starting with the hilarious British comedy, THE INFIDEL. Omid Dalili plays Mahmud, a moderate Muslim living in England, watching soccer, running his shipping company, and taking care of his family. He hates radical cleric Arshad El Masri, who is currently touring England. Things are a little rough when his son wants to marry a girl who turns out to be El Masri's stepdaughter, but he plays nice and pretends he's more devout than he really is. But things get really strange when he clears out his recently deceased mother's house and finds adoption papers. A little sleuthing reveals his birth name--Solly Shimshilewitz (might as well have been Jewy Jewy Jewsteinfeldbergfarb...owitz). He starts obsessing about his hated Jewish roots (hey, he's self-loathing, he's already a Jewish stereotype!) Now maybe it's just me, but if I learned I was adopted and actually had a vastly different heritage, I wouldn't think too much about it. I'm what I (and my family and friends) have made myself, and no accident of birth will change that. And maybe Mahmud/Solly would reach that conclusion on his own in short order, but he finds that his birth father is a) still alive, b) on death's door, and c) guarded by a rabbi who won't lett Solly/Mahmud see him until he's "Jewish enough." So he turns to his neighbor/erstwhile enemy Lenny (Richard Schiff) to teach him how to be Jewish. Of course, what with balancing his Jewish identity and newly radical Muslim identity causes wacky hijinx to ensue. The ending is a little cheesy, but ultimately a defense of moderation and an indictment of phonies. But who really cares about the message, the point is it's a really funny movie.

And the second movie I saw was LOVE LIFE, a graphically erotic Israeli movie. A young, studious but uncertain, married woman develops a mysterious obsession with an old family friend. Apparently he was her dad's best friend back in the day, but her mom is very uncomfortable around him. She tries to stay away, she always goes back, he treats her like dirt, then tenderly, then like dirt again. And along the way she uncovers a troubling family secret. Fantastic acting. Usually these movies kind of bug me. I don't get why the woman would keep coming back to the man who is so obviously a bad idea. And I still felt a lot of that, but at least the excellent acting made me believe her.

And that was a week ago Sunday at south Jewfest.

Total Running Time: 218 minutes
My Total Minutes: 215,316

Jason goes to Cinema By The Bay

The SF Film Society puts on a whole fall season, and I'm always too busy/distracted for it. But I did manage to catch one day of their weekend of locally made films last Saturday. It also turned out to be all documentaries. Weird. Anyway, here's how it was:

First up, a collection of short student docs from Stanford, THE STANFORD SCENE. They were all pretty good, but as short student pieces (that had to be finished in one quarter) the dominant theme was that I wanted most of them to be longer.

SHAVING THE CASTRO: A look at a neighborhood barbershop in the Castro that's been there long enough to pre-date when all the gays moved in. And it survived the change and has become something of a neighborhood landmark.

TIGHTLY KNIT: A quirky look at knitting circles. More than just old ladies, there are all kinds. The best part is the knitting equivalent of graffiti taggers who "yarn bomb" knitted sleeves around trees, parking meters, etc.

DREAMS AWAKE: Winner of the 2010 Student Academy Award. Doroteo Garcia (who was in attendance) is an immigrant janitor whose planned short stint making enough money for his family has turned into a decade long separation. So he's turned to poetry (and union activism) to express himself.

STILL REVOLUTIONARIES: A candid, insightful look at the Black Panthers from former members Madalynn Rucker and Katherine Campbell.

AN ARCHITECT'S VISION: Chris Downey was an acclaimed architect, and then he went blind. A fascinating look at how he's coped and learned to explore space by touch and sound instead of sight.

ZEUF: Zeuf is a breast cancer survivor, a nurse, and a surfer. And this movie is about her story and particularly her body image issues and accepting herself as she is--a strong, confident, proud surfer woman (who happens to have lost a breast).

KEPT: A look at hoarder--people who collect stuff and never throw stuff out. That's a lot of clutter.

WITHOUT COUNTRY (SIN PAÍS): The story of the Mejia family, torn apart by an insane deportation system (deport the parents first, then the son who was brought to America when he was one a year or so later. Leave the daughter who was born in America here?)

Next up was the coal mining documentary (didn't I see another one of those about a week ago?) DEEP DOWN. Like ON COAL RIVER (from Docfest), it's a movie that contrasts the effects of mountaintop removal mining with the beautiful scenery of Appalachia. And it's a portrait of locals who fight to protect their land. Terry Ratcliffe's family has lived there for generations, he owns his land and built his own log house. A mining company has offered him quite a bit of money to mine the mountain just above him, but he doesn't really want to sell (although he's tempted. He makes a meager living selling handmade wood furniture). Meanwhile Beverly May is an activist who works to prevent the coal company from destroying their hollow. Also like ON COAL RIVER, there's not a lot from the coal companies' point of view. Which is kind of expected, it's hard to justify mountaintop removal on any level other than 'we can make a ton of money doing it.' And that doesn't really fly well against personal stories of people struggling to survive.

Next up, a movie 30 years in the making, ED HARDY TATTOO THE WORLD. 30 years ago was when director Emiko Omori first ventured into Ed Hardy's tattoo shop. She made a short film at the time, but now she's made a feature length film about the entire scope of Ed Hardy's life and art. He was interested in drawing at a young age, and dabbled in fake tattoos before pursuing a "serious" art career. He graduated from the San Francisco Academy of Art and was primed for a career in fine art, but sort of shocked the world by declaring he would return to his childhood fascination with tattooing and elevate it to high art. He immediately learned that tattooing was harder than he thought. He could draw, but knew nothing about how bodies moved, how deep to get the needle, etc. He apprenticed under Sailor Jerry, and quickly learned his chops and did make an undeniable impact on the world of tattoos, especially by introducing Asian motifs (including the huge all-back tattoos) as well as classic Americana. Recently he's retired from tattooing, and taken up "serious" art again. And he's opened up his own shop for his art. A good movie about a fascinating, amusing man.

And finally, the night ended with 4TH AND GOAL, a documentary about NFL dreams with a focus on the class at City College of San Francisco. Under coach George Rush, Sr. (whose son is a producer on the film, making this kind of a father worship film) City College dominates the world of junior college football. Kids who for some reason (often financial) didn't start out in a division 1 school but want to play football flock here, and coach Rush really forms a family that is not just based on dominant football, but also demands academic achievement. As much as he doesn't want to squash anyone's dreams, he knows that the chance of any of them--no matter how good they are--of making the NFL is pretty slim. But all the subjects of this film at least make it into division 1 schools on football scholarships after two years there. And for the most part, they all find there is much less of a supportive, family atmosphere there. In fact, it seems right that the one kid from Sierra Leone that coach Rush officially adopted--a young Gibril Wilson--did go on to the NFL, and won a Super Bowl with the New York Giants. Each player was allowed to bring one friend/family member onto the field with him. On the field celebrating the Super Bowl win with Gibril was coach Rush. None of the other players had a career in the NFL--some fell to injuries, some made it to training camp but were cut. But all have a starring role in this film, and their stories, drive, and love of the game make this movie work.

And that was Cinema By The Bay. Or at least the one day I saw of it.

Total Running Time: 283 minutes
My Total Minutes: 215,098

Monday, November 8, 2010

Jason goes to the 3rd i South Asian Film Festival

Once again, I've fallen a week behind on my updates. Sorry this will be kind of brief.

I'm embarrassed to say this is my first time at this film fest. Although I've seen several of their co-presentations at SFIAAFF, I was, before last Friday night, a virgin to 3rd i proper.

I am pleased to say I started my 3rd i experience with a truly wonderful night. Which just makes me more embarrassed to say this is the only night I'll spend at the festival this year. The fall calendar for film fests in the Bay Area is too crowded, but maybe next year I'll carve out a niche for 3rd i.

Anyway, 3 movies to go with the 3 eyes.

First up, a slapstick British terrorism comedy, FOUR LIONS. A group of British Muslim Jihadi-wannabes plot all sorts of terror. A couple of them travel to a training camp, where they accidentally blow up the wrong people. Back home, one (the white guy) has a brilliant plan to blow up...the biggest mosque in London. The logic (if you can use the word) is that an attack on a mosque will make moderate Muslims more militant. Of course, that doesn't exactly work if you also make a video taking credit. It all ends in a tragically slapstick marathon race with them wearing bulky costumes to cover up the explosives. Very funny. In fact, I suppose it's one Lion better than the English football team (I don't know if there's supposed to be a connection, but they're the Three Lions).

Next up, SLACKISTAN. As the title suggest, it's like SLACKERS but set in Pakistan. And that pretty much sums it up. Well made, real, and funny. It introduces us to the prosperous youth in Islamabad, a group who speak fluent English, wear trendy clothes and dine at trendy cafes. If it weren't for the occasional news report (on, e.g., the Taliban), you'd think they were American. And that's the value of the movie--breaking down the stereotypes we see on the news and showing that everyone is really in the same business of living life, with the same goals, humor, and frustrations.

And finally, GANDU (ASSHOLE). This is quite an experience. Gandu is a Bengali rapper in India who spends his time (when he's not rapping) either getting high, masturbating, or...well, not much else. Getting into trouble, I guess. After a bit of a rocky meeting with Ricksha, a crazy Bruce Lee fan who pulls...a rickshaw, they eventually become friends. And the movie becomes kinda gay. Not that there's anything wrong with that. More drugs, more insanity, then the credit rolls...and there's at least another half hour, now in color (oh yeah, it was black and white up until then) and borderline pornographic. Awesome!

Total Running Time: 276 minutes
My Total Minutes: 214,815

Friday, November 5, 2010

Jason goes to Jewfest South--Thursday, Nov 4

So I had a bit of a dilemma last night, as a film fan and as a soccer fan. Should I go to a viewing party and watch my beloved San Jose Earthquakes take on the New York Red Bulls in the second leg of their home-and-away playoff round. Or should I go to SVJFF and see a documentary

Well, I employed this oft-used logic: If I watch the game and the Quakes lose, I'll be doubly sad both that I saw it and missed what looked to be a good movie. But if they win, I'll be happy whether or not I saw it live, and I'll also get to see the movie.

So about 7 pm I was standing outside the Cubberly theater in Palo Alto, following @sjearthquakes on twitter as Convey scored the go ahead (aggregate) goal (after scoring the aggregate equalizer in the sixth minute), then New York equalized, and finally team (and league? please, please, please...) MVP Chris Wondolowski scored the series winner (on a pass from Convey) that ended the Red Bulls season and sent San Jose into the Eastern (???) Conference final (yes, Eastern conference, because they were wild cards even if they're from the West. In fact, there's a good chance the Eastern conference final could feature two Western teams, if Colorado puts away Columbus on Saturday). I have to say, following soccer on twitter is still kinda exciting. Maybe more so, as only exciting plays are tweeted.

Thankfully the Quakes put 'em away in regulation, I'd have gone insane if they went to overtime (to my European readers, MLS doesn't count road goals over home goals. And good thing, that would've negated the most exciting game in league history) and the movie started before the game ended.

Oh yeah, all that and there was a movie. AFTER THE CUP is the story of Bnei Sakhnin. Sakhnin is a predominantly Arab city in Galilee. The residents are mostly Arabs, but they're also Israeli citizens. They're the poorest team in the Israeli Premier League, but in 2004 they shocked the country by winning they Israel State Cup, meaning they represented Israel in the UEFA Cup. The team is an idealistic rainbow, featuring Arab, Jewish, and foreign players. And that's all well and good when they're winning. In the next season, they find themselves in a struggle to avoid relegation. And they find themselves plagued by hooligans--both for and against them. I suppose I could find some metaphor in there about how coexistence doesn't work if nobody wins. But I'd rather just enjoy it as a good movie with some exciting soccer scenes. And I became emotionally involved enough with the team that I despaired at their losses and cheered their victories.

Running Time: 79 minutes
My Total Minutes: 214,539

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Jason figures out how to split time at several film festivals this weekend.

Almost, I think. It's exhausting being me. Anyway, here's my plan.

Tonight (Thursday) I'm heading to Palo Alto for the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival screening of AFTER THE CUP.

Friday night, I'm finally going to catch 3rd I, the SF International South Asian Film Festival. Especially excited about FOUR LIONS at 7:20 and ASSHOLE at 11:30. SLACKISTAN at 9:30 will probably be cool, too.

Of course, that means I'll miss my chance at a second screening of BABNIK, from this year's Cinequest, when it plays at Cinema By the Bay. I do plan to attend the series on Saturday, though (unless I'm too exhausted). Always happy to support locally made film, and especially since Cinequest is promoting it, too.

On Sunday, I work at Niles and as soon as I'm off at 4 pm I'll head down to San Jose for yet more of SVJFF, catch a couple more films there.

Good thing I finally (for the first time in a few weeks) got completely caught up on my blog posts, because I'm pretty sure I'll fall well behind this weekend again.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Jason goes to Jewfest South--Wednesday, Nov 3

One film last night at the Camera 7, NORA'S WILL. An alternately slapstick comedy and touching drama about a death in the family. Specifically, the death of the matriarch Nora, married for 30 years, divorced for 20, and committed suicide on Passover Eve. But she was (according to her ex-husband Jose) the ultimate manipulator, as the fully set table and refrigerator full of food with instructions would attest to. Jose arrives and starts making passive-aggressive plans for the funeral--complete with calling a Catholic cemetery (oh yeah, I figures it goes without saying since I saw it at a Jewish film festival, but the family is Jewish) for the burial and ordering a sausage and cheese pizza for dinner. This doesn't sit well with the rabbi, or his son, or the rest of the family and odd characters who start showing up. And things just get worse when Jose discovers a photograph that sheds new light on their past. The whole time--based on Jose's complaints--you can feel Nora manipulating events for her own purposes. But when every Jewish cemetery in town refuses to bury a suicide within the cemetery grounds (they have a lot put aside for suicides and criminals), you get the idea that maybe her grand plan was to give her warring family a common cause to rally around.

Running Time: 92 minutes
My Total Minutes: 214,460

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum to see THE MILPITAS MONSTER

It just so happened that it was my birthday last Sunday (yes, Halloween), and I spent it first by napping a few hours after the Indiefest/Cellspace horror movie half-marathon. And then I saw something else (besides me) that was created in 1974--a movie made by high-schoolers in the small Bay Area city of Milpitas.

So I'd been warned literally for weeks to go in with low expectations. But the fact is, THE MILPITAS MONSTER was not as bad as I expected. Yeah, there's not much budget, there aren't many real actors (just a Bob Wilkins cameo), and the special effects are laughable. But there's an energy and sense of good-natured civic pride and self-deprecating humor (Milpitas is described as the Bay Area's "breadbasket" and "waste basket"). Plus they got the mayor and chief of police to show up, and this was back in the time when high school kids could make a movie with a drunk main character/comic relief. Oh, and there's an environmental message or something--The monster comes about from pollution.

This was presented partly in support of the efforts to produce THE NILES MONSTER. Here's hoping that gets made, Niles deserves a giant rodent terrorizing it....maybe that came out wrong.

Running Time: 80 minutes
My Total Minutes: 214,108

Jason goes to about half of a 24-hour horror movie marathon

The good folks at Indiefest, just days off the end of Docfest put on a 24 hour horror movie marathon following the formula from Eli Roth. I didn't make it to the whole thing, instead I watched my San Jose Earthquakes play hard but fall 1-0 to the New York Red Bulls in the first round of the MLS Playoffs. It's a home-and-away series so they need to beat New York tomorrow by more than 1 goal to advance. Anyway, I went straight up to the city to Cellspace right after the game. WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? was playing, and I have a thing about jumping into movies halfway through, so I stayed out and chatted with some friends for a while before starting with ERASERHEAD. A quick rundown of the films I saw (and somehow I managed to catch all films I've already seen, and missed the few I hadn't seen before):

ERASERHEAD: Love the look, love the giant-faced woman in the radiator stepping on the giant sperm. Love the joke at the end that his head is actually made out of eraser. And I "get it" in as much as it's a nightmare about the fear of sex/growing up. But goddamn if it doesn't confound me every time.

SUSPIRIA: Dario Argento's classic, and builds on the dream-on-screen feel that went maybe a bit too far in Eraserhead. I've seen it several times, but this is my first time seeing it since actually visiting Freiburg. makes no difference.

CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST: This actually brings me full circle. When I first moved to the Bay Area I learned about the Roxie when they played it as part of the 20th anniversary re-release and national tour. After watching it for the first time on the big screen after several times on video (I've now seen it a few more times on the big screen), I swore I had to keep track of what plays at a theater cool enough to play CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. The next February there was something called "Indiefest." I took a chance, figured out it was possible to see everything, and became a film (and film fest) addict. And even after all these years, the turtle-butchering scene is still worse than the penis-severing.

THE EVIL DEAD, THE ULTIMATE EXPERIENCE IN GRUELING HORROR: Damn right I'll use the full fucking title! Maligned for years by people who preferred the more slapstick sequel (and who don't acknowledge that the first one is also intentionally funny). Most of the haters (at least through the 90's) either never saw the original (only heard it sucked) or saw it on a really bad VHS copy. Thankfully years ago it was released on a great DVD print and people are getting to learn that it was great in its own right. And now it has the honor of being the 365th film I saw on the big screen in 2010. Woo hoo! Guaranteed an average of over 1 movie per day. I wonder if that's something to be proud of?

AUDITION: Great movie, but hardly anyone was there at this point. And it'll never be the same as when it was first released, and art-house audiences were drawn in to the drama not knowing that it would seriously fuck you up at the end. Now everyone knows it's horror, but it's still a great movie.

And then, by mutual agreement of the very few people who were left (all but me working for Indiefest) we decided to end without showing TORSO. I'd say that's a shame since it would've been the one movie I hadn't seen before. But I really needed sleep by then anyway.

Total Running Time: 482 minutes
My Total Minutes: 214,028

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Jason goes to Docfest--Closing Night

Well, once again I've fallen about a week behind on my updates. Here are the final two movies:

First up, the ultimate fan film, THE PEOPLE VS. GEORGE LUCAS. Made with contributions of fans around the world, it is at parts a love-fest of the original STAR WARS trilogy (and of the first INDIANA JONES movies), at parts a diatribe against the "improved" versions (of course Han shot first! In my mind, he shot, then hacked in and edited the security footage to escape prosecution). And then memories of the great expectations for the prequels, and the disappointment that followed (okay, mitichlorians (don't care how it's spelled) determine how much Force you have, but lifestyle, training, and concentration can increase your mitichlorian count. Can we all be cool with that? Didn't think so...) And it's a celebration of fan edits--as I said, it's the ultimate fan-made movie (and now I have to check out that Silent Star Wars). It would be ridiculous to say that you can enjoy this without being a STAR WARS fan. But on some level, it's really a movie about a lot of people who take one piece of pop culture way too passionately. In theory, a similar movie could be made about anything else--except there's nothing else like STAR WARS.

And while I'm at it, I'll throw in my one "STAR WARS changed my life" story. Actually, it's the story of my very first memory of being at a movie. I was 3 when STAR WARS came out. And I have a very vague memory of being in the back seat of my parents' car at a drive-in theater, and Princess Leia's face on the screen. Considering most of my very early memories are completely wrong, this might be as well, but I'll still count it as my first movie.

Anyway, the next movie started with a short, BABBLE. People speak gobbledygook impersonating various foreign languages (and English gets it, too). Very short, and kind of amusing.

And the final film, TOYLAND. Partly a fun history lesson, with the creators of such classics as Slinky, Lite Brite, Twister, Ant Farm, Operation, etc. And it's partly a cautionary tale of one toy inventor trying to hit it big. The inventor part is at the same time the most fascinating and the most painful. See, he has this big idea for Crazy Chins. You know, you draw an upside-down face on your chin (as simple as two dots for eyes) and make movies by blocking off the rest of your face with a sheet and shooting it upside-down. It just struck me that as fun as it may be, it's so effort-intensive and requires so many extras (chiefly a video camera and a friend to film it and possibly help apply it) that the kids who would be so inclined are already doing it (or would do it without the kit). I don't know, I could be totally wrong, but no big toy dealer at any of the shows bought it, and one made essentially the same criticism I had above.

This movie was an interesting pairing with THE PEOPLE VS. GEORGE LUCAS, in as much as it featured a whole lot of grown men playing with toys. But I was really struck how middle-aged STAR WARS fans are a whole lot more passionate (or a whole lot crazier on camera) about their thing than people who made millions off the toys they invented.

Total Running Time: 160 minutes
My Total Minutes: 213,546

Jason goes to Jewfest South--Wednesday, Oct 27

Just one film, down at the Camera 7, and that film was JUMP, starring Patrick Swayze in one of his final roles. It's the story of Philippe Halsman, one of the most famous photographers of all time, with over 100 covers of Life magazine. As the movie opens he's in his Manhattan penthouse studio taking pictures of Marilyn Monroe jumping. He did a whole series of celebrities (even Richard Nixon) jumping, and he talks about how when someone jumps you get all of their natural, unguarded, "real" movements (as opposed to the mask we wear the rest of the time). An interview is the framing device to take him back to the traumatic events of his earlier life in Austria. While on a hiking trip with his father, they had a fight and later his father fell after a heart attack and died (or was murdered while Philippe was going to get help). However, as antisemitism was on the rise in the area, he was accused and put on trial, what some claim is the first Nazi trial of a Jew. Swayze plays his lawyer, and does an admirable job. And there are quite a few very good scenes in the movie. But there are also far too many overly melodramatic, unsubtle monologues. I can't help but think there's a better movie to be made about the same story.

That feels unfair. This really is a good movie, just with a few scenes that I felt were overdone.

Running Time: 102 minutes
My Total Minutes: 213,386

Jason goes to Docfest--Day...12?

I don't know, I've missed too many days. Anyway, it was last Monday. Two movies.

First up, ON COAL RIVER, a movie about coal mining (particularly strip mining and mountaintop removal), Massey energy, and the effects on the local population. Taking as a jumping off point a "fill" (not waste, that would be illegal) pool that is poised just above a local elementary school. The heroes work to get a new school, clean water, etc. Even walking all the way to D.C. to meet Senator Robert Byrd. It's pretty easy to sympathize with them, and the movie seems to make a conscious decision to keep it a personal narrative rather than digging too deeply (no pun intended) into the economic questions. There are quite a few people shown who support Massey in particular and mining in general--it's the economy there, and they don't see a lot of alternatives. But by keeping it a personal narrative, I think it makes it a more engaging movie.

And I followed that up with BAS! BEYOND THE RED LIGHT. It's about a dance school for girls who have been rescued from the brothels of Mumbai. And that's quite a jarring dichotomy. One moment, they'll be talking about how they were abducted (often sold by their own family) or we'll see an interview with a trafficker, and then the next minute you see them practicing their dance routine and you see quite a lot of joy. I have to admit I dozed off from extreme exhaustion at a couple of points during the movie. But what I stayed awake for was alternately traumatic and inspiring, and the final dance video is really good.

And that was last Monday at Docfest

Total Running Time: 158 minutes
My Total Minutes: 213,009

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Jason hosts Bad Movie Night--THE WOLFMAN

That would be the 2010 version with Benicio Del Toro. And it's soooo daaaamn sloooow. Except for the moonrise/moonset scenes, which are shot in time lapse and are extremely fast. I couldn't help but wish the whole movie was shot like this.

So excruciating, that even with my hosting duties (I was supposed to make smart-ass comments all through the film) I left halfway through the movie to go get more beer*.

Running Time: 103 minutes (but it could've done the same in about 20)
My Total Minutes: 212,851

*For legal reasons, I must point out that root beer is a type of beer.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for a Creature Features show

I love Niles, and especially when they go nuts for Halloween.

Ernie Fosellius (HARDWARE WARS) was there to show PLAN 9.1 FROM OUTER SPACE. A remake/parody of Ed Wood's classic PLAN 9, with nods to GLEN OR GLENDA and a little dig at George W Bush's intelligence. Hilarious, and the 'outtakes' are even better.

Then, after Ernie played with dolls right in front of us (having James Lipton interview Tor Johnson), we settled in for an actual Creature Features show. It was THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US, the third and final in the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. In this one the creature is burnt, captured, and his scales are replaced by skin and his gills give way to lungs (which he had all the time). So he's no longer a sea creature, he's a land creature. And there's stuff about science vs. religion, nature vs. nurture, and whether man can create a new species or just use what nature gives him.

Whatever, the important things are the wacky old commercials and Bob Wilkins doing his sly, comic thing (like jolting awake during a break in the film). And an interview with Forrest J. Ackerman. Hilarious good fun. I feel bad that I had to split right when the movie ended.

Total Running Time: 110 minutes (estimating at least 10 minutes for the Creature Feature extras)
My Total Minutes: 212,748

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 10

Last Saturday, after the two Berlin and Beyond films I caught 3 Docfest films. It's been a while since I've done 5-a-days...feels good.

First up, THE VANISHING OF THE BEES. I've heard reports on the news and stories here and there about mysterious bee disappearances. I think I've probably heard the term "colony collapse disorder" before, too. But this movie tackles it in a comprehensive and entertaining way. There's plenty of alarmist doom and gloom--without bees pollinating we'd lose the majority of our fruits and vegetables. Bees dying (or just disappearing, the odd thing is there aren't piles of dead bees near the collapsed colonies) is a sign of an environment badly out of balance, etc. But it's also a personal story of the beekeeper who first sounded the alarm, it's a political thriller as he attempts to get action, it's even an engaging narrative about the science around it--the breeding of bees, the systemic pesticides used on modern crops, etc. All in all, a well told story. Oh, and it's narrated by Ellen Page. I like her, although I didn't recognize it was her voice until the end credits. She just did a good job, the narration was helpful and not intrusive.

Next up was TRAMPOLINE, a shockingly intimate look at a family falling apart over the course of the year. Osla and Nathaniel are the parents--or rather Osla is the mother and Nathaniel is the stepfather. And Nathaniel is apparently diagnosed as psychotic, although I don't see it. The kids are a freakin' mess--mostly drug use but also other forms of teenage rebellion (make that super-rebellion). Family friend Mark Wojahn filmed it all. And it looks like a home movie, and obviously jumps around in time (particularly Nathaniel's haircut is a giveaway), but it's still pretty compelling. They're interesting people, and the film gets into their lives pretty deeply.

And finally, the night ended with AMERICAN MYSTIC. A parade of deeply religious, non-Christians (or even non-Abrahamic). We meet several, mostly living in secluded, rural landscapes (desert retreats are popular). Most swirl around nature worship of some sort--call it Wicca or Paganism or whatever. What we don't get is much explanation of the beliefs and practices themselves. I suppose that gives us a view of several people who live happy, spiritually fulfilling lives with religions other than the dominant ones in America. But without the hook of 'they believe/practice this' I was left with little reason to care about them. I know it's way more of a task than this movie set out, but I really could've used some brief explanation of the religions.

Total Running Time: 267 minutes
My Total Minutes: 212,638

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Jason goes to Berlin and Beyond--Saturday, October 23rd

First, as a fan let me express some frustration with the festival's move from January (where it was unchallenged on the calendar) to October (where it's up against practically everything). I've preciously gone every day, this year I'll only make this one day and only two movies.

Since I'm not really in the know, I won't discuss the rumors I've heard about the move being connected to the circumstances of Ingrid Eggers departure. I will just say that for years Ms. Eggers ran a great festival, as a fan I will miss her and hope for nothing but the best for her.

Also, I like the fact that they have added a San Jose day (Saturday Oct 30, at the Camera 12) in the festival, although I won't be able to attend.

Okay, with that out of the way on to the movies:

First up, THE WOMAN WITH 5 ELEPHANTS, a charming documentary about Swetlana Geier. Considered one of the greatest Russian-to-German translators, her "5 elephants" are the translations of Dostoyevsky's 5 great novels. But this is not just a movie about translations, it's a movie about a deeply fascinating old woman. She's well in her 80's now, and walks painfully hunched over, but is meticulous and careful in everything she does. There is a sort of care she takes with everything in her life, like she's in the moment observing, appreciating, and reacting to it. That's true whether she's discussing translations with a colleague, baking a pie, or ironing. And she manages to drop subtle and humorous bits of wisdom. Particularly good was her "translate with your nose in the air" story (which doesn't mean be stuck up, it means read a passage, internalize, and look up and speak/write it in the translated language without going through word by word).

I had a bit of an epiphany while watching it--this is why I love movies. My mind tends to wander all over the place and I think of many things at once. When I'm in a meeting, I'm likely to be thinking about what I did just before or (more likely) what I'll do after the meeting. But while watching movies (and not during all movies) I can focus on just the movie. Being in a darkened room with a lighted screen, in a social atmosphere where having a conversation or checking my cell phone is taboo...calms me. That's also why I don't watch many movies on DVD at home--there's not the same forced attention. I readily admit that I couldn't keep my mind from wandering at times. I would catch myself thinking about something else (usually how much time there would be between films and if I had time to get a bite to eat), and then I'd be brought back to the film by a particularly beautiful or intelligent scene. As I felt that increased focus, I thought this must be how Swetlana Geier feels all the time, and it's pretty cool.

For the record, I had time enough that I could've gotten some food, but chose to stay in the theater and chat with friends before the crowd-pleasing MEN IN THE CITY. It's a story of five men and their romantic tribulations/adventures. There's a shy weakling who falls for the checkout girl at the pet store. There's her extremely violent ex, who wants her back but has also caught the eye of his father's nurse. There's a music producer/party animal with tons of women, none of whom he loves (and the flamingly flamboyant pop star whose music he produces). And there's the (seeming) loser with the pregnant girlfriend and no job, but a grand plan for a chain of healthy, organic fast-food restaurants. And finally, there's the normal guy with a plan for his whole life and a beautiful fiancé. But he's got a complication when a hot young model throws herself at him, forcing him to make a choice. Oh, and although they are strangers (at least at the start), they all go to the same gym, making it a sort of comic intersection for all their problems. As I said, it's a crowd-pleaser, and it's pretty darn good at that (they're filming the sequel right now).

Total Running Time: 200 minutes
My Total Minutes: 121,371

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 9

Yeah, I spent two consecutive days at Docfest! (in fact, I'm writing on my third consecutive Docfest day) In past years, that's nothing, but with my schedule that's an accomplishment this year.

Anyway, two more movies with the theme of nudity and self-love (giggitty!)

First up, MAY I BE FRANK. Frank Ferrante is (spoiler alert: was) a fat, self-loathing Sicilian with a history of drugs and alcohol, an estranged daughter, and a host of physical ailments--most importantly Hepatitis C. Talking one day to friends who run a Vegan restaurant (now that's a story they didn't get into--how did Frank ever walk into a Vegan restaurant?), he mentions that all he wants to do is fall in love and be loved once more before he dies. But no one (he believes) can love him looking like he does. Heck, he can't even love himself. So the three kids--Ryland, Cary, and Connor--take this as a challenge, and challenge him to a 42 day project. He will eat all his meals vegan (at their restaurant, if possible), will do daily affirmations, will keep a journal, and will go through any other "cleansing" processes they choose for him (yes, colonics are involved--hence the nudity theme of the night). And they will videotape the whole thing, and in doing so these complete amateurs became film directors. With such an outspoken personality, Frank is bound to be entertaining, and he is. For quite a while, it plays like a trio of annoying hippies torture a goombah (watching him drink wheatgrass juice is more painful than anything I've seen in the JACKASS movies). And I know it's totally wrong of me, but there's a part of me that liked the big, fat, unhealthy goombah more. Frank was there for the screening, and he looks tiny compared to what's on screen. I'm very happy that he's healthier and happier, and that he is on speaking terms with his daughter and ex-wife. He doesn't drink wheatgrass juice regularly anymore--although after seeing the movie people like buying him wheatgrass shots and colonics. And, of course, he's still as outspoken and hilarious. Despite what I wrote just a few sentences ago about preferring the fat, unhealthy goombah, after an hour and a half of such a (pun intended) frank look at him, he becomes a sort of friend, and I like to see my friends do well.

Next up was SEX MAGIC. Early on someone describes the Sedona Temple as like Oz, and shaman Baba Dez is the Wizard of Oz. When I heard that line, I thought to myself that the Great and Terrible Oz was a fraud, a humbug, just a weak little man pulling levers to manipulate a greater illusion. And whether intentional or not, that thought colored the rest of the movie. Dez practices tantra, polyamory, and sexual healing. But of all the thousands of women he's made love to, his true beloved is Maya. But then she up and leaves him. She claims she was okay with polyamory, but the extreme level of his promiscuity was too much for her. So he hatches a plan to get her back--using Sex Magic. That is, harnessing orgasmic energy for casting spells (or something like that). Basically, she left because he was having sex with too many other women, and his plan to get her back is too have lots more sex with many other women.

There was a lot of discussion in the Q&A over whether the movie was making fun of Dez and other practitioners at the temple. I was inclined to believe not--the movie was a sincere look at him, and it's just reality that makes it funny. But thinking about it more I think it goes back to the Wizard of Oz line. If it (the line and my reaction) was intentional, then yes, the movie is making fun of him. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Total Running Time: 167 minutes
My Total Minutes: 212,171

Friday, October 22, 2010

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 8

Yeah, I skipped another couple of days. Wednesday was the Quakes last regular season home game, so I was there to watch Wondolowski score a hat trick, set a new Quakes single season goal record, and pull into a tie for the Golden Boot. Oh yeah, and they beat Chivas U.S.A. 3-0.

And Tuesday I a top secret undisclosed location. Doing something awesome, no doubt.

But Thursday I was back at Docfest for two more movies:

While the Giants were playing Philly (we'll get them in Philadelphia and make the World Series), I was actually watching GIANTS. And there was a lot of Giant orange, but not for the baseball team, for pumpkins. In fact, the question of whether a giant gourd that is genetically the same species but is not orange is or is not a pumpkin becomes a central conflict in the movie, tears apart a Pacific Northwest growers club, and turns old friends into bitter enemies. But aside from that, it's a humorous procession of obsessive oddballs all trying to grow the biggest pumpkin and claim the most prestigious prize--winning Half Moon Bay (their festival was on Columbus Day weekend, I just missed it). Almost nobody turns a profit on this--it's a giant (no pun intended) money sink, where people spend hundreds on a single seed, obsess daily on the progress of their vines, and ultimately mourn when they grow too fast and split, rendering them invalid. It's also a competition where the world record is routinely broken by ~50 lbs a year. This movie was shot in 2005, and the winner at Half Moon Bay (which wasn't even the record that year), at a measly 1229 lbs is just a baby compared to the recent record of 1810.5 lbs.

My only nitpick is that Tom Skerritt's narration was often unnecessary. I like Tom Skerritt as an actor, but often the information was redundant, and the attempts at humor fell flat (I'd chalk it up to his deadpan delivery doesn't play if you don't see his face). And sometimes it felt like a person just off-screen reacting to dialog on-screen. Maybe there wasn't enough of a pause between on-screen dialog and the narration (a minor tweak to the sound editing could fix that?)

So next up was PLUG & PRAY, a fascinating look at the world of Artificial Intelligence. Told in interviews with luminaries like Ray Kurzweil (inventor of a reader for the blind, a famous music synthesizer, founder of Silicon Valley's "Singularity University," and a futurist who predicts immortality is within our grasp through nano-robots in our bloodstream. Or the Japanese like Hiroshi Ishiguro or Minoru Asada, developing lifelike human robots (like the ones you see on the news every few months) that are currently inhabiting the uncanny valley (this movie, more than all the crazy shit at Holehead, reinforces my thesis that the Japanese are freakin' weird). Or professor Neil Gershenfeld of MIT's "Center for Bits and Atoms." I just like that name, and as it suggests it's the merging of physics (particularly nano-physics) and computer science. The loudest dissenting voice, and nominally the star of the film is (the late) Joseph Weizenbaum, In 1966, his speech recognition program ELIZA arguably started the field of artificial intelligence, but now he rails against it, arguing against the loss of humanity/the soul, and the dangers of the limitless faith in science. His death--and his comment that it is the duty of the old to die and make room for the young, thereby allowing them to reinvent humanity and keep the whole crazy thing going--is all the eerier set against Kurzweil's prediction that immortality will be possible in as little as 20 years.

Oh, and speaking of matters of the soul, I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you about the Italian researchers who consulted with the Vatican and got a statement from the Pope saying essentially that their creativity and genius is a gift from God, so it is appropriate to use it to make amazing creations. So say what you will about the moral implications, but artificial intelligence has the blessings of the pontiff.

In contrast to the previous movie, this could have used some narration or another framing device to give it a point of view and walk the audience through the journey. As it was, it was very free-flowing, to the point where I sometimes got lost.

And that was last Thursday at Docfest.

Total Running Time: 160 minutes
My Total Minutes: 212,004

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 5

Or something. I skipped a few days, this is last Monday, two movies.

First up, MISS LANDMINE. This is truly a weird project, and I don't quite know how I feel about it. It's the brainchild of Morten Traavik, who creates beauty pageants of victims of land mines. It draws attention to their plight, and empowers women who are often marginalized. Particularly in Laos--where the Miss Landmine pageant was held the year this movie was made, and where some Buddhists ostracize victims of tragedies because they must have bad karma.

But all the good that Miss Landmine does is undermined (no pun intended) by Traavik's somewhat abrasive, self-aggrandizing, douche-baggy personality. Opponents (including those in the government) try to shut him down, and he has to sneak into Laos in order to crown the winner (who receives a state of the art artificial leg and a golden prosthesis trophy) and deliver prize money to all contestants. But I can kind of see his opponent's point. It's like he's trying to do a good thing in the most annoying, provocative way possible.

And speaking of annoying douchebag provocateurs, BIKER FOX. Frank P. DeLarzelere III is Biker Fox. He hails from Tulsa Oklahoma, where he's a motivational bicyclist (in that he bikes a lot while yelling at people). He makes his living selling muscle car parts, and he calls himself a nature conservationist--because he feeds the raccoons that are all around his property. And he's a giant pile of bipolar disorder (note: this is not said in the movie, and I'm not qualified to diagnose him. It just seems pretty freakin' obvious). It is so amazingly appropriate that his best friend is deaf. Although I'll always remember him for his obnoxiousness, I'm afraid this is a movie (and a character) I'll always remember.

Total Running Time: 160 minutes
My Total Minutes: 211,844

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Jason goes to Jewfest South, Sunday October 17th

Just had time for one movie last Sunday night, A SECRET. A story that spans a generation in a family of survivors

During the Holocaust, the Grinbergs changed to Grimbert, and changed from Jewish to Catholic. After the war, young, insecure, unathletic Francois Grimbert is something of a disappointment to his father. Particularly, that "unathletic" part. See, both his father and mother were great athletes, which sort of makes him an oddity. But through flashbacks we learn the secret of his family's former Judaism, his father's former wife, his deceased half-brother, and the tragic circumstances around them. It's a solid drama of what it takes to survive, and sometimes the simple tasks (such as keeping a secret about yourself) that make survival impossible.

Against typical convention the "present day" scenes are in black and white, while the past is in color. It took me a while to figure that out, but once I did I kind of dug the "happy memories of the past" vs. the "bleak present" feeling. However, it did confuse me for long enough that now I want to see it again. In fact, this film originally played at the festival in 2008, and is brought back as a "Best of the Best" offering. I wonder how I missed it back then?

Running Time: 110 minutes
My Total Minutes: 211,684

Jason celebrates Edna Purviance's birthday at the Niles Film Museum

Happy 115th, Edna, you don't look a day over 20-something. Of course, I only see you in those Chaplin movies, when you were his greatest leading lady, so that might explain that. Niles is proud to keep your memory alive.

First up, the short A NIGHT OUT (1915): Edna's debut, and filmed right here in Niles. Charlie and Ben Turpin paint the town a drunken shade of red, and after being tossed out of the restaurant, they end up in a hotel. In the room across the hall is the lovely Edna Purviance, and Charlie immediately has his eye on her. Too bad about her husband.

Then a brief intermission, with a little birthday cake and punch.

Then the feature, A WOMAN OF PARIS (1923). Charlie directed this movie, his first attempt at straight drama, in an attempt to make Edna Purviance more famous (it didn't work, but did wonders to further the career of Adolphe Menjou. Marie (Purviance) starts out poor, with her loving but poor artist fiancé, Jean (Carl Miller). But she heads off to Paris where she becomes the mistress of the wealthiest bachelor in town, Pierre Revel (Menjou). When Pierre gets engaged (not to her), and Jean comes to town, she has a choice of being the wealthy "other woman" or being the poor wife of her old love. Or, she would've had a choice if Jean's mother didn't get involved, and misunderstanding lead to tragedy.

We would've had a second short, A JITNEY ELOPEMENT (1915, also an Essanay film, like A NIGHT OUT), but we ended the show early so everyone could watch "60 Minutes" on TV. Why the big deal? Well, our historian/projectionist David Kiehn was on, as was the museum. And if you look at the very end of this segment, I make a split-second appearance. Woo hoo!

Total Running Time: 111 minutes
My Total Minutes: 211,574

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Jason watches JACKASS 3-D


I don't think there's any point in reviewing this as cinema. If it's art at all, it's performance art.

And there's no point in calling it juvenile and disgusting. It's called "JACKASS," and by the third time out in theaters (not to mention the MTV show that I never actually watched), you pretty much known what you're going to get.

And yes, there are scenes that are pretty clever, sometimes laugh out loud funny, although I've found that mostly it's the gang laughing at the one guy in pain that is the funniest part.

Look, this movie will find its audience, and there's nothing critics can do about that. And, in fact, I'm not ashamed to count myself as part of its audience. I greatly enjoyed a lot of the movie.

So why the sigh at the beginning? Because I thought JACKASS 2 was better, and maybe I got my hopes up too high.

Running Time: 94 minutes
My Total Minutes: 211,463

Jason watches LET ME IN

And it's pretty good, but not quite as good as the Swedish original LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (Låt den rätte komma in), which should be the gold standard of pre-teen vampire romance.

It's a fairly faithful remake, enough so that nothing really surprised me in it. I think it will have an effect similar to THE RING (American version)/RINGU (Japanese original)--whichever one you saw first, you like more (unless it's the Korean version, I don't know anyone who argues that RING VIRUS is the best version of that story).

I got a little off topic there. There are two main differences that make me like the Swedish version better. First, LET ME IN takes out the shocking and somewhat controversial nude scene. I can live without it, but it was such a memorable part of the original version that I kept wondering if they'll do it in the American version, and if they do how will they do it. The second difference is simply a matter of style. The swimming pool scene in the original is, in my opinion, in the running for most beautiful scene in any movie ever. They still have the swimming pool scene in the American version, but just not quite executed with the same framing, beauty, and grace.

But hey, when my major nitpick is that the climactic scene doesn't hold up against what is possibly my favorite movie ever, that's not too bad.

Running Time: 116 minutes
My Total Minutes: 211,369

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 2

Two more movies last (Friday) night, so let's jump right in.

First up, a hero-worship doc that has a very worship-worthy hero, AMERICAN: THE BILL HICKS STORY. A fairly straightforward narrative of the life of the outspoken stand up comic, told by the people who knew him best--friends and family. It was clear from a very young age (like 13, when he first broke into the stand-up clubs in Houston, TX) that he was a born comic. The movie recounts his early squeaky-clean days, his dabbling in psychedelic mushrooms (one of his oft-repeated jokes is about how the news never does a positive drug story), and his drinking--leading to his anger and bitterness coming out in his act. Eventually his "act" just became people in the audience buying him drinks and him getting royally wasted on stage. But he cleaned up, stopped the booze, and came back as a seriously funny angry comic with political messages about the drug war, free speech, and flag burning. Although he had the the respect, admiration, even worship of fellow comedians, he was ahead of his time and never really caught on the way he should've in America. So he went to England, where he played giant sold out theaters, and then returned to America and played small clubs. In fact, this movie titled AMERICAN was actually made in the UK. I have to believe, especially seeing the success of angry political comics today, that had he not died young (of cancer) that fame would've come to him. As it was, I remembered several of his bits when I saw them again in the move, but didn't know him as a household name. More's the pity.

And then I followed that up with an odd, traumatic story of pedophilia and incest, FAMILY AFFAIR. Filmmaker Chico Colvard's father molested and abused his daughters and went to jail for a long, long time. And now he's done his time and he's out, and somewhat inexplicably the daughters still see him, even have him over for Thanksgiving dinner. Colvard sets out to document this, and try to understand why they still let their abusive father (to be fair, they refer to past abuses but you never see him acting abusive nowadays) into their life.

So I have to confess, I was exhausted and dozed off a couple of times during this film (it happens). So if he answered the question of "why?" I didn't see it. Instead, what I saw was a close examination of a family, that raised an interesting and powerful question without answering it--possibly because it's unanswerable.

Total Running Time: 187 minutes
My Total Minutes: 211,253

Friday, October 15, 2010

Jason goes to Docfest--Opening Night

Last night was opening night of SF Indiefest's annual Documentary Film Festival. I have to warn you all right now that my coverage will not be as complete as previous years. What with Docfest, the Silicon Vally Jewish Film Festival, the Arab Film Festival, and Berlin and Beyond all overlapping, not to mention my volunteer work at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, my rooting for the Quakes (back in the playoff, woo hoo!), and Mill Valley Film Festival and Taiwan Film Days (which I simply won't make it to), as well as other assorted social obligations...well, I'm just way to busy. If all goes as planned, I'll see just over half of Docfest.

But let's not let that take away from the fun of opening night, and the high energy fun of EVERYDAY SUNSHINE: THE STORY OF FISHBONE, about a band that's full of high energy fun. Black punk rockers, unclassifiable funky metal (early record producers didn't know whether they could put them into "black music" or not), and one of the most uncompromisingly democratic groups ever, they let every member do their own thing and somehow it came together great. Or at least, that's what the critics and the bands they inspired (who went on to greater success) all said. They never really reached the success that seemed promised when the group of friends from Los Angeles hit the scene in the 80's. It seems their fatal flaw is refusing to dumb themselves down to the point where they can be easily understood.

The film--narrated by Laurence Fishburne (hey, I just got that, Fishburne/Fishbone)--mixes archival footage (mostly provided by dedicated fans) with interviews from admirers (ranging from Flea to George Clinton to Tim Robbins to Gwen Stefani) and contemporary 'behind-the-scenes' footage of the remaining founding members Norwood Fisher and frontman Angelo Moore. With a 25 year history, including members leaving and a trial for attempted kidnapping, you can't avoid a "Behind the Music" feel, but they take their bruises as a sort of pride, admitted that they (okay, maybe just Angelo) may be crazy, but that's the source of the creative genius.

With a movie like this, it's hard to know when the story is done. Filmmakers Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler spent four years, and it still feels like an unfinished story--obviously because Fishbone is still performing. Here's hoping the end of that story includes the success that seemed inevitable 25 years ago.

By the way, Lev and Chris, along with Norwood and Angelo were there for a Q&A session afterwards, and they were a total trip to meet.

Next up was a documentary that took a long time to really get going, both technically (problems with the media, they eventually gave up and switched to a screener DVD), and cinematically. EAT THE SUN is primarily the story of Mason, a young man in San Francisco who gets involved in the practice of sungazing. That is the spiritual/lifestyle practice popularized by Hira Ratan Manek--better known as HRM, fitting since his followers treat him kinda like His Royal Majesty. Sungazing (or Solar Gazing) is the practice of staring into the sun for 44 minutes a day (starting at 10 seconds, working your way up by adding 10 seconds every day, until you level off at 44 minutes). HRM claims he hasn't eaten solid food in years (even if you pay him a lot of money, he won't eat!), that he gets all his energy from the sun, that teams of doctors have verified his fast for as long as 411 day. Although he does occasionally drink tea, coffee, or buttermilk, he somehow photosynthesizes all he needs to survive (something about direct sunlight stimulating the pineal gland). Many follow his practice, and swear that they have more energy, don't eat (in fact, are no longer hungry), and...I don't know, gain super powers? The downside is they get withdrawn, lonely (not surprising, given how much socialization happens around food). Director Peter Sorcher follows Mason (now up to 30-some minutes of daily sungazing) as he searches for explanations, answers, and some assurance that he's on the right path. At first he seems like an incredibly naive, deluded young man, and the movie is something of a parade of equally deluded sungazers--including an anthropologist who claims to be the inspiration for Indiana Jones and has started a church in (I think?) New Mexico based around solar gazing. But surprisingly, Mason actually is pretty level headed, and medical results showing he is slowly burning his retina (despite feeling no symptoms) leaves him conflicted, as does a meeting with possibly the loneliest solar gazer on earth (he claims he can't be around anyone because his energy is too great. In fact, he eats only to lessen his energy). Without giving away any spoilers, the real gold is when they catch HRM's dirty little secret on camera. Took a long time to get there, but ultimately there was a pretty satisfying payoff.

And that was the start of Docfest 2010

Total Running Time: 186 minutes
My Total Minutes: 211,066