Saturday, January 30, 2010

Jason goes to the Vortex and sees NAUSEA

And most importantly, there's one more chance for you to see it, tonight, at the Vortex.

Ya know, no matter how many movies I watch (and in reviewing my records from last year I realized I forgot to log two movies, so my total was 444), I can always count on the fact that there's some sick fuck somewhere who will make something I've never even imagined. This time that sick vomiting fucker is Wes Malvini, writer/director/star of NAUSEA

Apparently this is all funnier if you've read a lot of Sartre (I have not) or Bukowski (I have a little, or maybe I've just seen a few movies based on his writing). An unnamed Man (Malvini) is a quirky goofball who be-bops his way down the street to his job at a bookstore. He seems pretty happy wandering through life with his sly, absurdist, dare I say "outsider" viewpoint on humanity. I can relate. So then the Woman (Lindsay Howard) shows up. She's "self-medicated," which is a nice way to say she's drugged out of her mind all the time. The Man is now in love, and that makes him sick. Indeed, as the opening line from Bukowski reads, "There are worse things than being alone." Throw in a rival, Skylar (Dustin Jones) and it gets sicker, although to his credit Skylar is a very good son taking care of his sick mother. And caught in the crossfire is a young family living the suburban American dream, with a baby that (I'm sorry) looks really, really freaky, like a big-headed small-bodied alien (okay, all babies look like that, but most can make it look cute, this one just made it look freaky). But then, maybe that's all due to the color scheme.

Oh yeah, the color scheme. Colors are all manipulated and flipped so skin (and apples, etc) is blue, eyes are yellow, and everything is just bizarre. Apparently they did this to fix one scene that wasn't working, and then just liked how it worked with everything else. In the Q&A they talked about how the colors made you notice things that you wouldn't otherwise. Cool, and I guess it takes a bit of getting used to.

Actually, the whole movie takes some getting used to. I bought the DVD (they were selling it for $10, go to the Vortex and get your own tonight) and re-watched it this morning. The combination of not drunk/struggling to stay awake and knowing what I'm in for made it much easier to understand and appreciate the second time. So there you have it, NAUSEA holds up to--and in fact rewards--multiple viewings. Perhaps I'll go read the complete works of Sartre and watch it again.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Jason announces a fantastic Cinequest pass giveaway

So I just got confirmation that I will have a press pass for Cinequest this year (the big 20th anniversary). And like last year, I also donated at a level that gets me an all-festival pass (specifically, a VIP Pass that gets me into every film, every event, and every party). Last year, I gave that pass away as a "travelling pass"--use it, write what you saw, and pass it on. That was half successful. I know a lot of people used it, because I saw it full of comments on the final weekend, but it never got back to me at the end. Some would call that completely unsuccessful, but I'll count it as half-successful. Anyway, I'm trying a new way to do it this year.

This year I've decided to give away the pass to just one person, but someone I know will write about what they see. If you are that lucky person, you may keep the pass to yourself or pass it among friends (or even strangers). The only rule is, as before, you must note everything you (or your friends) saw. And you/they must write opinions of some of the movies you see . I don't plan to provide a notepad this year, as my old one never reappeared. So bring your own. Better yet, just post your opinions to, or e-mail them to me and I'll post them. If you do keep a physical notebook, just give it to me at the end of the festival and I'll scan/transcribe them online (depending on my energy and your handwriting)

So now how do you win this pass? Easy, just e-mail me with your reviews of at least two movies you saw last year. I'll pick a winner. The idea is I want to give it to someone who can can show that he or she can write movie reviews and is willing to do it in exchange for a pass (really, the idea is that more people should be like me). You can send me more than two reviews, and it might increase your chances (unless they suck. I don't need any competition on the quantity over quality front). My fellow bloggers are welcome to enter, however my idea is really to challenge new people to put their opinions out there, so I'll probably be biased against well-established bloggers. Besides, if you already blog and want to cover Cinequest, you could just e-mail the publicity office and ask for your own press pass.

Anyway, let the contest begin!

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 7

A night of Frisco Noir, the Castro was packed and let's get straight to the movies.

First up was RED LIGHT, a tale of vengeance starring the heaviest heavy ever--God. Also starring Raymond Burr as Nick Cherney, in jail for embezzlement. He stole from freight magnate Johnny Torno (George Raft), who loves nothing and nobody more than his army chaplain brother Jess (Arthur Franz). Nick sees in a newsreel that Jess is coming home after 5 years at war, and getting a hero's welcome in San Francisco. So he decides to hurt Johnny as much as possible by hiring about-to-be-released Rocky (Harry Morgan, credited as Henry Morgan) to kill Jess. Yup, it's the movie for everyone who has ever wanted to see young Perry Mason hire young Col. Potter to kill a priest. Anyway, Rocky does it, and as Johnny hold dying Jess in his arms, he whispers something about the killer's identity being written in the Bible. Turns out, that's not the family Bible but the Gideon Bible, and by the time Johnny realizes that it's been taken by a later guest. So Johnny goes on a quest to track it down, Nick and Rocky chase him to get to it first, but ultimately vengeance belongs to the Lord. Overtly religious, but still fun, and the last heavy-handed "open 24 hours" scene cracked me up. Best line: "The meek shall inherit the earth--six feet of it"

And then the entire free world is at stake in WALK A CROOKED MILE. In a sleepy California town of Lakeview, which sprouted up during WWII, nuclear scientists build the future. Trouble is, there's a security leak, so FBI agent O'hara (Dennis O'keefe) and Scotland Yard inspector "Scotty" Grayson (Louis Hayward) team up and follow the trail to that den of commies, San Francisco, where they run into Krebs (Raymond Burr again, this time sporting a goatee straight out of the mirror universe). There's a plot about math, stolen equations smuggled out on a handkerchief in the laundry, etc. Really, as a scientist myself it's a bit silly (perhaps it was different at the time, but the math isn't the part worth stealing, the actual nuclear material is) and sometimes way to dry (a pivotal scene has a team of scientists passing an equation around and praising the inventor). But when it gets to the guts--the commies and the good guys throwing punches and/or bullets--it cooks pretty well. Oh yeah, and a little advice to the FBI, when you compare a traitor to Benedict Arnold, don't do it in front of your British colleague. Was I the only one who thought that was awkward?

Running Time: 174 minutes
My Total Minutes: 168,441

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 6

Yes, I skipped day 5. I went to a Cinequest media kickoff party (their website is now live with the schedule) and then to...something top secret. But I was back at the Castro for Bad Girls Night. Excellent.

First up was ONE GIRL'S CONFESSION, starring Cleo Moore and writer/director Hugo Haas. Cleo plays Mary Adams, young lady who would rather pay her own way as a waitress than hitch herself to a man ("They're all alike, they just have different faces so you can tell 'em apart.") But when she sees her boss collecting a whole lot of money (turns out to be $25,000), she hatches a plan to sneak into his room and steal it. Her plan goes off without a hitch, but the real surprise is when the cops show up she confesses before they even suspect her. She spills all the dirt--how her boss cheated her father and she was just getting hers back--but refuses to reveal where the money is. She's sentenced to 1 to 10, and is free on probation after 3 years good (and amazingly cheerful) behavior. But rather than go straight for the hidden money, she returns to waitressing, this time for genial although a little sleazy Dragtomie Damitrof (Haas). Damitrof chats up the ladies well enough, and the scenes with his girlfriend Judy (Ellen Stansbury) are priceless. But his real vice is cards. A losing streak puts everyone in danger, and a psycho-drama of mistrust and guilt unfolds. Good story, but for a noir film there wasn't really any character who was villainous enough. Underneath, everyone really was a nice guy/girl.

Well, that was cured easily with WOMEN'S PRISON, which had villains aplenty but of course none worse than psychotic warden Amelia van Sandt (Ida Lupino). Ironically, the nicest guy in prison is Dr. Crane (Lupino's husband Howard Duff, who I assumed enjoyed calling his wife a psychopath on-screen). The prison is actually co-ed, with the men and women in isolated wards separated by a thick stone wall. The inmates are a great cast--Jan Sterling as jolly recidivist and guide Brenda Martin; Phyllis Thaxter as abused new meat Helene Jensen; and Audrey Totter as Joan Burton, whose husband is on the other side of the wall. Cleo Moore even appears as an inmate. There are a lot of problems with the way the prison is run, and while the head warden (Barry Kelley, the crooked cop in THE ASPHALT JUNGLE) is tough, van Zandt takes things way to far administering the women's side of the prison. So far, that things get out of hand and there's an inmate revolt. Lupino makes an excellently nasty villain, and I loved the build-up of tension as she gets worse and worse and you know she will get a very satisfying comeuppance.

Running Time: 153
My Total Minutes: 168,267

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 4

Monday night was the night for Belita, the ice queen. Literally, a professional figure skater (who represented Great Britain in the Olympics) and then made a few movies and is now an odd footnote in Noir. Monday was dedicated to her. Not to Barry Sullivan (although he starred in both films), and not to the King Brothers (although they produced both films), but to Belita.

Belita shows off her skating prowess in SUSPENSE. Barry Sullivan stars as Joe Morgan, drifter and scoundrel who gets a job selling peanuts at the Ice Palace run by Frank Leonard (Albert Dekker). Belita plays the star of the show Roberta Elba, who also happens to be Mrs. Frank Leonard. Too bad for Joe, who has his eye on her right away. But he gets in good with the show and with Frank by inventing a stunt where Roberta jumps through a hoop of razor sharp knives. Soon, he's running the show, taking over for Frank in every way but the one he really wants. But a murder attempt/accident in Frank's hunting lodge in the mountains changes that, and then things get really weird.

Then Belita eschewed the skates entirely, but again played opposite Barry Sullivan in THE GANGSTER. Sullivan is Shubanka, a world-weary small time gangster who is doing okay in his well-establish rackets, but has some trouble, too. His second biggest weakness--he's too soft, doesn't have it in him to attack hard when the competition tries to muscle him out. But his biggest weakness is his showgirl girlfriend Nancy Starr (Belita), who he simultaneously spends to much on and mistreats. When a new gangster Cornell (Sheldon Leonard) starts muscling him out and gets to his right-hand man Jammey (Akim Tamiroff), Shubanka has to make a play to keep power, and maybe even his life. It's peppered throughout with a cast of colorful characters hanging out in Jammey's ice cream shop, including a very young Harry Morgan as paramour Shorty, and an uncredited blink-and-you'll miss it (but watch for it and it's unmistakable) Shelley Winters cameo.

Running Time: 185 minutes
My Total Minutes: 167,997

Monday, January 25, 2010

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 3

Okay, I skipped Day 2 to go to the Niles Essanay 5th Anniversary Party Saturday night, and I have it on authority that I trust that I made a good decision. Anyway, I was back on Sunday for a double-dose of Marilyn Monroe. That's right, she led a noir life and actually did some noir film in the days when she was just a budding blond bombshell.

First up, I caught the Technicolor noir, NIAGARA, starring the great wonder of nature and a big waterfall. It's a lurid affair about Marilyn having a lurid affair. She plays Rose Loomis, in Niagara on vacation with her husband George Loomis (Joseph Cotten, who is also fantastic). He's high-strung, nearly cracking up, and that's all part of her murderous plan. Jean Peters and Casey Adams play the Cutlers, a married couple on a delayed honeymoon who are staying in the cabin next to the Loomises (actually, they were supposed to be in the Loomis' cabin, but they decide to spend a few extra days as George is finally resting peacefully, and the Cutlers agree to take a different one). Well, turns out Mrs. Loomis has a secret lover (which Mrs. Cutler finds out) and a plan to kill her husband. But it backfires, leaving her husband alive but her lover dead, and everyone thinking the husband is actually dead. Well, not only is he alive, he's out for revenge. Beautiful, and more than a little sleazy, just the way I like it.

Then Marilyn just had a bit part in THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, but steals every scene she's in with her brilliant cinematic sensuality. Director John Huston is credited with being the first to use her to her abilities. She had been under contract to 20th Century Fox, but they let her go. After making this movie for MGM, Darryl Zanuck of Fox bought her back (and eventually made NIAGARA with her, which really launched her to a new level). But as I said, she has a bit part as Alonzo Emmerich's (Louis Calhern) mistress. It's hard to point to the "star" of the film as this is really an ultimate ensemble cast. Emmerich is the bankroll behind a big job planned by recently-released "Professor" Doc Reidenschneider (Sam Jaffe). Trouble is, he's not so much a bankroll as bankrupt. Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden, and probably as close to a "main character" as anyone) is the smarter-than-average hooligan muscle, and Doll Conovan (Jean Hagen) is his ever-loving girl. Rounding out the team is a family man safe-cracker and a driver. And Lt. Dietrich (Barry Kelly) is the corrupt cop with the commissioner breathing down his neck. Now, the way I've written it up makes them all sound like stereotypes (or archetypes), but what's great about this movie is that they are all well-developed characters, and every actor gets a chance to fill out his role. Oh yeah, and it's a tight, thoughtful story and John Huston does a great job blending the noir story with the Italian Neo-realism that influenced him so much (and yeah, that was a dash of film-geek pretentiousness there. So what? Go watch THE BICYCLE THIEF.)

Total running time: 204 minute
My Total Minutes: 167,812

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for the big 5th Anniversary Party

That is, the fifth anniversary of playing movies every Saturday night at the Edison Theater at the Niles Film Museum. In three years, we'll celebrate the 100th anniversary of the original theater. 5+3 = 100, because we're bad at math.

By the way, before I forget, some anonymous donor has offered a $2,000 challenge to the museum. If they raise $2,000 in donations by the end of the month (I know, 1 week away), they'll match it with $2,000. I know we took in quite a lot last night, but I don't know the total. I was looking around the website for a donation button, but couldn't find one. So I guess show up during museum hours (noon-4 pm, Saturday and Sunday) or call at (510) 494-1411. Donations of $25 or more get you 1) entered into a super-duper raffle for fabulous prizes (DVDs, books, museum membership, etc.) on Jan 31st, and 2) you name on a slat on the wall in the theater. Or for $500 you can sponsor a poster restoration project. The poster will hang in the museum with a plaque with your name beside it, and you'll get a reproduction for your home.

Okay, with that out of the way there were also movies last night, specifically movies that were restoration projects of the museum.

KNIGHT OF PYTHIUS CORNERSTONE LAYING AND PARADE, FRUITVALE, CA (1913): A document of history. Town leaders give speeches (which of course we don't hear), lay a cornerstone, have a parade.

SOL LESSER HOME MOVIES (1925): Lesser was a San Francisco native and film producer/distributor (He worked with Jackie Coogan and Baby Peggy, and made a lot of Tarzan movies later in his career). These are home movies with him and his family clowning around. Sometimes funny, especially the William Tell scene.

SECRETS OF LIFE: THE BIRTH OF A BUTTERFLY (1924): Produced by Sol Lesser, and an interesting early look at amazing ultra-close-up photography. A caterpillar hatches, eats, and forms a cocoon. Only problem, it stops at the cocoon, and we never actually see the birth of a butterfly.

The first three movies were accompanied by Judy Rosenberg. Which reminds me, normally we have one pianist per night, but for this special night we had 4. Each got up beforehand and talked about how they came to silent film and to Niles in particular. That was cool (especially Frederick Hodges, who I'll get to at the end).

Okay, more movies:

THE BIG SWIM (1926): Accompanied by Greg Pane. An old Mutt and Jeff cartoon. And now I have to confess that I'd never seen Mutt and Jeff, so I don't know which is which. So anyway, with news celebrating someone swimming across the English Channel, they decide to make really, really big news by swimming across the Atlantic Ocean. One swims while the other follows in a boat. Easier than it sounds, with the help of a cork-lined swimsuit. Wacky hijinx ensue, and it was really funny.

Then an intermission, some punch and cake, some donations (I got my wall slat reserved), and then back to the movies, with some actual Essanay Studios products:

BILLY MCGRATH ON BROADWAY (1913): Accompanied by Bruce Loeb. An Essanay production from the Chicago studio, Billy McGrath decides to produce a Broadway play. Problem is, the actors walk out. No problem, the stage hands fill in, and wackiness ensues. Includes Augustus Carney, famous as Alkali Ike in Essanay westerns in Niles. He went to Chicago for a while but the tightly regimented schedule worked him too hard and he returned to Niles. Suck it, Chicago!

VERSUS SLEDGE HAMMERS (1915): Accompanied by Frederick Hodges. A Niles Essanay production, and one of the few surviving Snakeville comedies. Margeret Joslin is Sophie Clutts, the only eligible woman in Snakeville, AZ, and sweetheart of Mustang Pete (real-life husband Harry Todd). Tall, svelteVictor Potel is a count visiting from out of town who has his eye on Sophie, and so the battle begins. Googly-eyed Ben Turpin plays the Count's valet, who does helpful stuff like light his hat on fire (I guess you had to be there).

Oh, and I said Frederick Hodges had the best "coming to silent film" story of all the pianists. Turns out when he was nine he asked Santa Claus for a Sears-Roebuck film projector--and got it. It came with rolls of silent films, and he'd watch them in his room. But they were silent, and he was learning piano and liked ragtime (BTW, we sell his CD's in the museum) and learned to play along with the movies. Later in college he formed a film club and played whatever he wanted. One day he was playing PANDORA'S BOX for an audience and realized it didn't have a soundtrack (most silents were released with a soundtrack accompaniment). So he ran down to the piano that was fortuitously at the front of the theater, and started playing along. And the rest is history.

Running Time: Not listed, so I'm estimating about 90 minutes
My Total Minutes (estimated): 167,608

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Jason goes to Noir City--Opening Night

I finally made my first Noir City last year, and I knew I'd be back for more this year. It just kicked off with a double bill from screenwriter Bill Bowers that illustrates this year's theme (and Noir staples)--Lust and Larceny.

First up, Dick Powell and Raymond Burr bring the lust (ummm...not for each other, for Lizabeth Scott) in PITFALL. Powell (who produced the film through his independent production company) stars as insurance adjuster John Forbes. He's burnt out at work and at home, despite a strong, supportive wife (Jane Wyatt) and a son who thinks he's a god. He muses about quitting and driving all the way to South America. Still, he's got a family and is a dutiful professional. Raymond Burr is MacDonald, a P.I. who does work for Forbes' insurance company. Today's job is to get money back from an embezzler's girlfriend, Mona Stevens (Lizabeth Scott). MacDonald has already done the investigation, Forbes just has to stop by to collect. Trouble is, they both are sweet for the dame. Mac makes his intentions clear, but he's a creep and she won't have anything to do with him. Forbes is a nice guy, and they "comfort" each other. Being 1948, the implied adultery is maybe not clear to a modern audience, but they have a brief affair although he has no intention to leave his wife and she actually has no intention to leave her jailbird fiancee. So MacDonald just has to stir up shit and make everyone suffer. Director Andre de Toth specifically wanted to raise the question (but not answer) of how long must someone pay for a mistake. And apparently Dick Powell was going through just the same thing, and jumped at the chance. Excellent movie.

Then John Payne and Dan Duryea bring the larceny, Joan Caulfield brings the wide-eyed naivete, Shelley Winters brings the psycho-bitchiness, and Bill Bowers brings the snappy one liners ("Don't worry, there's a client born every minute") in the surprisingly funny Noir-omedy LARCENY. Rick Mason and Silky Randall (Payne and Duryea) are con men from Florida looking for a big score in a rich community near L.A. The scam is a fake war memorial, dedicated to the late husband of Deborah Clark (Caulfield). Rick's job is to pretend to be an old war buddy of her husband and seduce her into spearheading fundraising to build the memorial/youth center. She's important because her dad is city manager, so if they're found out he'll cover to avoid scandal (okay, not all of it makes perfect sense). Rick's got the looks and charm to pull it off, although there seem to be unexpected difficulties every step of the way. The primary difficulty is Tory (Winters). She's Silky's girl, but has fallen for Rick and they're sort of planning to take the money and run away together--that is if she can get out of the way long enough to let him run his scam. Plus Silky suspects something and he puts guys on Rick's tail to keep an eye on him. There are other complications--a previous victim shows up and might reveal the whole scam, Deborah is so enamored she decides to fund the whole project herself (meaning no donations to steal), but worst of all is true love. Doesn't that always mess up everything?

Running Time: 175

My Total Minutes: 167,518

Friday, January 22, 2010

Jason slips into a Vortex and sees PAYDAY and THE ARTFUL PENETRATION OF BARBARA

Back at my favorite underground film cult location. Played it light, just two martinis and a beer. Oh yeah, and a couple of movies.

PAYDAY: Rip Torn plays a cynical, manipulative country singer. He's a jerk, the movie is very episodic, and I had trouble staying awake. But screw it, I'm still counting the minutes.

THE ARTFUL PENETRATION OF BARBARA (aka BLACK ON WHITE): Tinto Brass, that pretty much says it all. Or do you want me to say more? Fair Barbara wanders through town, followed by the band Freedom, has weird thoughts/fantasies. Much of it sexual, some of it violent (a lot of it a blunt critique of society's acceptance of violence and prohibition on eroticism). She keeps seeing the same black man. And it's all very artistic.

BTW, if you didn't know, Tinto Brass is the Italian erotic film master who directed (among many other films) Bob Guccione's CALIGULA.

Running Time: 183
My total minutes: 167,343

BTW, if you're paying careful attention, you'll notice that my total minutes are not necessarily my previous total plus the running time of the current post. That's because sometimes I see top-secret screenings with press blackouts. I still count them towards my minutes, but I don't blog about them.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Terry Gilliam being very Terry Gilliam-esque. So it's weird, colorful, a little scary, and the devil is a major character.

It's also Heath Ledger's final performance, and it's impossible not to think about that when he suddenly changes into Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrel in different imaginary worlds.

Anyway, I don't feel like writing much right now. So that'll be it.

Running Time: 122 minutes
My Total Minutes: 166,756

Jason goes to Bad Movie Night and sees G. I. JOE

A good ol' boy named Duke (so nicknamed because he's full of dookie) and his hilarious negro comic relief save the world from a green, metal-eating maguffin controlled by an evil Scotsman. Then the Baroness appears to make everyone's cobra rise.

There's a ton of flashbacks, and each time I hoped it "accidentally" skipped to a different movie. Sadly, no such luck. But at least it's set up for a sequel--and thinking about that made me cry into the many containers of alcohol I brought along.

Running Time: 118 minutes
My Total Minutes (estimated): 166,634

Jason watches THE LOVELY BONES

Let me start by saying director Peter Jackson is probably more responsible than anyone for making me a movie fan. Well before his take on LORD OF THE RINGS, I was a huge fan of his gore-comedy cult classic DEAD ALIVE (aka BRAINDEAD). He was the first director who I swore I would have to see everything he made, and I have. For two years leading up to LORD OF THE RINGS I was telling all my friends it would be awesome because the director is a genius...then I'd explain BRAINDEAD and they'd all look at me like I was crazy. But he proved my faith well-placed and I made all the doubters eat their words. It was beautiful.

All this is to say that Jackson pretty much automatically gets extra points for me. I knew his version of KING KONG was ridiculously self-indulgent, but I was fine watching him indulge. So when his take on Alice Sebold's novel THE LOVELY BONES left me sort of empty and not knowing how to respond, well...I assume that means most people will actually think it sucks. And I hate saying that.

I read the novel as soon as I heard that Peter Jackson was making the movie, and although it's a great novel, I thought even at the time it was an odd choice for him. The story is told by a little girl, Susie Salmon. She was 14 years old when she was murdered, and she tells the story from the "in-between" region before she goes to heaven. Think of it as limbo, if you like, but she's there because she can't let go of the people she cares about on earth. Her family, her boyfriend (she dies before she has a chance for a first kiss), etc. Although a lot of it plays out as a hunt for her killer, his identity is never in doubt--and that's intentional. Instead it's about how her murder affects the people around her in surprising ways. Family strife is expected, but the interesting parts are the ways that the tragedy brings people together rather than tears them apart. Of course, Peter Jackson can't make a movie that's not visually impressive, so he goes wild with his imaginings of the afterlife. Some of it sets up some interesting transitions back to the real world, but a lot of it is just crazy indulgent. But I think what bugged me the most is that the novel is a very internalized story. While there's action (mostly around finding the killer and proving his guilt), that's not the story. The story is the internal changes everyone goes through, and while that's clear in a novel, it's harder on film. I'm actually left thinking Peter Jackson actually chose a more unfilmable book than "Lord of the Rings" to try to film. And that's pretty impressive, even if the results fall short.

Oh yeah, and for all my lukewarm reception, I should mention that the audience I saw it with was cheering at all the right moments. So maybe I've finally gotten really jaded.

Running Time: 135 minutes
My total minutes: 166,516

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for Comedy Shorts Night

A complete sellout at Niles! Awesome to see this place doing so well.

THE COUNT (1916): Charlie Chaplin and his giant rival Eric Campbell crash a high society shindig hosted by Miss Moneybags (Edna Purviance), each trying to pose as Count Broko. Hilarity ensues.

THE BELLBOY (1918): Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton work as bellboys in a third rate hotel (which charges first rate prices). A hilarious series of mishaps. Then it almost becomes a different movie in the second half when it turns into a bank heist comedy. Still very funny, of course.

Then an intermission, and two more shorts.

HIS ROYAL SLYNESS (1920): Harold Lloyd is a dead ringer for the prince of Thermosa (played by Harold's big brother Gaylord Lloyd, uncredited). When the prince gets a telegram warning him of his rival the Prince of Rochquefort (Snub Pollard), he meets Harold's character and the play a switcheroo, sending Harold into both a battle with the rival Prince and a peasant rebellion. On the plus side, it sends him into the welcoming arms of Princess Florelle (Mildred Davis), and he ends up accidentally leading the peasant rebellion and becoming the first President of Thermosa. Hilarious.

WRONG AGAIN (1929): And we end with the boys, Laurel and Hardy. They work in the stables, and hear news that The Blue Boy has been stolen. There's a $5,000 reward for its return. Which is good news, because they know exactly where Blue Boy is. Too bad they don't know that the reward is for the famous painting, not a race horse named Blue Boy. Particularly funny when the owner (who's in the bath) tells them to just put it on the piano.

Next weekend is the big free 5th anniversary special for the re-opened (after a 75 year hiatus) Edison Theater. That is, the 5th anniversary of the Niles Film Museum playing silent films every Saturday night. As I said, it's free, but the reservations are all filled up. So...sorry for the tease.

Running Time: 114 minutes
My Total Minutes (estimated): 166,381

Friday, January 15, 2010

Jason slips into a Vortex and spends some time with an OPIUM EATER and a MARRIED MAN

Vortex room Thursday film cult continues. A couple of martinis and I was settled in for CONFESSIONS OF AN OPIUM EATER (aka SOULS FOR SALE). 1962, Vincent Price (in a surprisingly spry and agile role)...Chinese slave girls...opium dreams...what is real?

And then I switched up to beer and watched SECRETS OF A MARRIED MAN. 1984, made for TV so they had to skirt the more explicit elements. But it's got the two best things in the world--hookers and Shatner. 'nuf said.

Total Running Time: 185 minutes

My Total Minutes (unofficial): 166,267

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Jason goes to Delirium Cinema and watches CAREFUL

My first time at Delirium Cinema, and they showed a Guy Maddin movie. I love Guy Maddin, and I had never seen CAREFUL, so this was perfect. I arrived and Busby Berkley musical numbers were on the screen, I was offered a beer, and I knew this is a place I will return.

Anyway, about the movies, which started with a few shorts:
SOBRA DOLOROSA: Guy Maddin's odd take on death, family, love, and Mexican wrestling.
SISSY BOY SLAP PARTY: Another Guy Maddin short, and it's exactly what you think.
INAUGURATION OF THE PLEASURE DOME: Kenneth Anger's weird, colorful, exotic, uniquely drugged-out vision. I know nothing of what happened, but I loved it.

And then the feature, CAREFUL. In a remote mountain village of Tolzbad, everybody is taught from a young age how to be very careful. Partly because they seem to be a naturally timid bunch, but mostly because if they're too noisy the avalanches will cascade down the mountains and kill them all. So when nothing can be said, repressed emotions run wild, which means Guy Maddin gets to run wild. There is love, incest, oedipal complexes, murder, suicide, ghosts, cuckoo clocks (with a goose instead of a cuckoo), severed fingers, and a thrilling duel (with knives instead of guns, of course. Don't want to start an avalanche). Guy Maddin shoots it like an early German talkie from the 30's, with color tints and cracks on the soundtrack. And it's awesome. I'll say it again, I love Guy Maddin!

Total Running Time: 146 minutes
My Total Minutes (estimated): 165,862

[Addendum: This brings up an interesting point. Do Delirium Cinema screenings count as movies I should include in my total minutes? I've put forth the requirement that I only count movies I see "on the big screen, not on home video." That doesn't necessarily mean a traditional cinema screening. But Delirium Cinema is a guy's home, he's just set up a projector and screen in there. I count the Vortex Room, which is probably the closest comparison. My logic there is that it (at least sometimes) operates more or less akin to a traditional theater in that they charge admission, have a schedule (that they sometimes even stick to), have concessions (martinis instead of popcorn, but frankly that's an improvement), etc. Delirium Cinema isn't exactly invite-only, but you do have to be in the know. They didn't charge admission, and it's more low-key. In that way it's more like going to a friends house to watch something on home video. But I guess I count it because of the social event involved in going there. You leave the house to go to a predetermined location at a predetermined time, sit in the dark with strangers (and some people you know, but some strangers), watch the movie all the way through (no pausing to make a snack), and then react to the movie at the end. In those elements it's much more like going to a theater than watching a video at home. I guess it's a judgement call, but I'm counting it as "going to see a movie on the big screen." Of course, your opinion may vary. And if it does, you are cordially invited to go f*ck yourself]

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Back in 2003, at the first ever Another Hole in the Head horror, fantasy, and sci-fi film festival, I saw this hilarious action/horror/comedy called UNDEAD by two Australian brothers. 6 years later, the Spierigs are back with a polished Hollywood production, but they're still finding interesting new takes on old genres. In this case, vampires.

In the near future vampires have appeared, attacked humans, and won thoroughly. Humans are an endangered species, and vampires control the tools of government--there's a vampire congress, police, corporations, etc. Humans were given the chance to assimilate, and those who didn't were hunted and put in truly grotesque blood farms, easily the most striking image of the movie. Ten years later they've over-hunted/over-farmed humans and now there's a crippling blood shortage. Even worse, starving vampires turn into "subsiders", the more feral, bat-like, monstrous vampires who are no longer recognizably human-ish (the process is sped up if they feed on vampire blood). In this world Ethan Hawke plays a vampire scientist looking for an artificial blood substitute. But not to save the vampires from starvation and subsiderism, but to save the humans that he still feels allegiance to.

I won't give any more of the plot away, there are some good twists (although I saw the last one coming a mile away), and nice work by the likes of Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill. It's scary at times, funny when it should be, and plenty of action. But mostly I like it for the clever and fully though out way vampires would live if they took over. Details like cars with cameras and blackened windows for day driving, or the subwalk series of underground tunnels make it easy to willingly suspend disbelief.

Running time: 98 minutes

My total minutes: 165,716

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum and sees THE VANISHING AMERICAN

Of course, first a couple of shorts:

A DASH THROUGH THE CLOUDS (1912): A very early Mack Sennet short that I had seen at the Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival back in 2008. An exciting story of a couple, the aviator who comes between them, and the angry mob who nearly kills him.

CRAZY LIKE A FOX (1926): Hilarious Charley Chase flick. Charley is being forced by his father to marry a woman he's never met. Neither of them are up for it, especially when he meets the woman of his dreams (Martha Sleeper). So he an his valet come up with a cunning plan--he'll pretend to be insane and scare the bride's parents into calling off the marriage. Everything is going great, until he meets the prospective bride, and she turns out to be the girl he met at the train station. Hilarious, and basically an excuse for everyone to act completely nutty.

and then after a short break we saw the feature, THE VANISHING AMERICAN (926). In an age when Hollywood really treated Native Americans poorly (i.e., 'the only good good Injun is a dead Injun'), Richard Dix pushed Paramount to make some small amends by producing this picture, based on a Zane Grey novel. Shot in beautiful Monument Valley, it starts with a brief history of the peoples who lived there for mere blinks in the geological time, and sets up the theme of stronger races constantly conquering weaker ones. Flash forward to the early 20th century, a strong, proud tribe lives on the land, but is being pushed to worse and worse reservations by U. S. Government agents who claim to have their best interests at heart. The worst of them is Booker, who shamelessly steals from the Indians. Richard Dix stars as Nophaie, the chief of the tribe, who has the guts and the smarts to stand up to Booker. It's a gripping, epic story, even including the exploits of American Indians in World War II, where many gave their lives for "their" country and the survivors were still not treated fairly upon return. Excellent, and kind of exhausting movie.

BTW, for all the positives of this movie, and as good an actor as Richard Dix was, it was still awkward to see him and other characters in face paint to play Indians. Which reminds me, there was a black-face butler character in CRAZY LIKE A FOX that also doesn't stand up to modern sensibilities. That's the price of watching silent films, seeing things that just aren't right anymore.

Robert Dix, son of Richard Dix was on hand to introduce the film, answer question afterward, and sign copies of his book, Out of Hollywood.

Which reminds me, during the day he also played his father's movie, THE WHISTLER. Based on a radio play and TV series, this was the first of a series of 8 movies made for Columbia. Richard Dix starred in the first 7, but had a heart attack and was replaced for the 8th (he passed away shortly after). Each movie is introduced and narrated by The Whistler, and they were all unrelated stories (Richard Dix starred in 7, but as different characters every time). In this first one, Richard Dix plays a man overcome with grief from his wife's death (and haunted by rumors that he was responsible), so he hires a man to hire a hitman to kill him. But when the original man dies, and he changes his mind, there's no way for him to find the hitman and call it off. Pretty cool.

Total running time (including THE WHISTLER): 206

My Total Minutes (unofficial): 165,618

Friday, January 8, 2010

Jason falls into a Vortex and sees BLUE SUNSHINE

Last Thursday I was back at my favorite little underground film cult, the Vortex Room.

There was a double feature, but I only stuck around for the first film, BLUE SUNSHINE. In seemingly unrelated incidents, people very suddenly lose their hair and then go psychotic and kill each other. Jerry (soft-core porn king Zalman King, looking an awful lot like Sean Penn) is accused of the murders at one party, and to clear his name he has to find out the truth. Turns out they were all classmates at Stanford 10 years before, and all took a certain type of acid called Blue Sunshine. Pretty wacky.

Running Time: 89 minutes (note, since I'm not sure what version was screened, I'll use the shortest version listing in I don't want to cheat on the minutes)

My Total Minutes (unofficial): 165,412

Jason reviews 2009, by the numbers

Back by popular demand (in that one person left a comment asking for it)! First, the movies per day:

Max is just 7 movies a day. Pfft, I can do that in my sleep (and probably did, partially).

But here's the important stuff, the histogram and the total:

First, that total, 442 movies. Yeah, that's a new record. More importantly, if you look you'll see there were 164 days when I didn't see any movie. That means a whopping 201 days that I saw at least one movie. That's the first time I've seen movies on more than 50% of the days of the year [Correction, I did that last year, too, but just barely]. I've managed to get above a 1 movie/day average by seeing on average more than 2 movies per day when I do see them. This year, I averaged 2.19 movies per day that I saw a movie. In 2007 (my previous record for totals, the average was 2.36). So my movie-watching had more total volume, but spread out over more days.

Anyway, this is what the rolling average looks like, compared to previous years.

And just looking at it, I'm exhausted. I should get some sleep.

Oh, and if you wanna know what my favorite movie of 2009 was...well, so do I. Do I look like I have time to pick the best one out of 442 films?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Jason Watches THE ROAD

Cormac McCarthy, the novelist who wrote NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, also wrote the story behind this movie. And if you thought NO COUNTRY was bleak, you know nothing about bleak. Viggo Mortensen stars as a father who leads his young son through a world that has gone through so/me unexplained cataclysm. Everyone is starving, some are cannibals, none can be trusted. They're on their way to the coast because...because the father has told the son that everything's better on the coast.

They have run-ins with different people. The son wants to be trusting and kind, but the father teaches him survival (if this movie has any redemption for mankind, it is this hint that kindness and empathy is at least a natural quality in children).

It's a great movie, amazingly shot, hypnotically scored, perfectly acted. Probably the best movie I never want to see again.

Running time: 111 minutes. My Total Minutes (unofficial): 165,323 (note, I've adjusted the total by adding the specific minutes for the films I've seen in 2010. 2005-2009 are still estimated as 90*number of movies)

Jason Watches UP IN THE AIR

George Clooney stars in this Jason Reitman (THANK YOU FOR SMOKING) film as Ryan Bingham, the most frequent of frequent fliers. He works for a company that fires people for a living (so their having a bonanza right now), and that seems perfect for his cynical "keep nothing in your backpack" lifestyle--hell, he travels 350,000 miles a year (more than a trip to the moon) with nothing but a carry-on. And he loves it. He's a member of all the exclusive travel clubs--gold programs for rental cars, hotel chains, airport lounges, and especially frequent flier miles. He's on a quest for 10,000,000 miles--something done by only 6 people before him (more people have walked on the freakin' moon!)

Anyway, his lifestyle is threatened when a bright young Cornell psychology grad Anna (Natalie Keener) comes in and revolutionizes the company with a bold idea--firing people by web cam. Well, Ryan doesn't like this, and for all his complaining his boss (Jason Bateman) decides to send Anna on the road with him so she can learn the ropes.

Many things about the story are predictable--Ryan will get a kick in his cynical butt (thanks to fellow frequent flier/love interest Alex, played by Vera Farmiga), and he'll learn to appreciate his family (although frankly the scenes at his sister's wedding slow the whole film down), and there's one scene that really bugged me (spoiler alert: can we please retire the cliche of people starting an important speech and then stopping and walking off without saying anything? It was never even believable enough to be a good cliche, and I know no way to make it interesting anymore)

But there's two sides to this. Ryan's not that unlikable, and he's not that bad at relationships, he's just bad at permanence. He's actually a genius at 1-minute relationships. He sizes up Alex right away, and the scene where he fires J K Simmons is brilliant.

I'm sure this just proves I missed the point of this movie, but I identified with Ryan Bingham more than anyone else in the movie. I don't travel much at all, but I drive a pickup with the idea in mind that if things got really bad I could toss everything I need in the back and leave with at most one other person (maybe a dog). And I ended up wondering what the film-watching equivalent of 10 million airline miles is...

So let's calculate that. After a quick googling, I get that the average airspeed of a commercial airplane is ~600 mph (I couldn't find ground speed, which would be more appropriate, but let's make the poor assumption that tailwinds and headwinds cancel out and that ground speed on flights averages to 600 mph). That's (conveniently) 10 miles/minute, so 10,000,000 miles is the equivalent of 1,000,000 minutes in the air (approximately, and this isn't including bonus miles you can get through other deals--credit cards, ordering airline tickets online, etc.) Please feel free to challenge/refine my assumptions, but I think 1,000,000 minutes will be the closest big round number that's equivalent to 10,000,000 airline miles.

So anyway, I'm defining my equivalent of 10 million miles as 1 million minutes watching movies. I started this blog three years ago, but I started tracking every movie I saw in 2005. I won't count movies before then, since you don't get frequent flier miles before you join the program. Since then I've seen 1,835 movies (including this one). Estimating 90 minutes per movie (a conservative estimate, I think, and I'll try to go back and look up running times to get a real total) I'm at 165,150 minutes (unofficially).

So from now on, I'll be counting my minutes, too, and each post will include a running total of minutes. Follow me on my idiotic quest for 1,000,000 movie-watching minutes. Remember, I don't count home video, only the big screen. Let's hope the big screen lasts long enough for me to get there.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Jason watches INVICTUS

And that's my first movie of 2010, and it's a pretty good one.

Given the legendary (and continuing) status of Nelson Mandela's life, it's probably a smart idea to keep a biopic limited in scope and let a short period illustrate the character of the man. And in fact the few times Clint Eastwood lost my attention was when he tries to expand beyond the details of the story--frankly, I don't care if Mandela had a troubled family life. Sure, it's fine to show him as mortal and flawed, but it was just shoe-horned in there akwardly.

The story takes place shortly after Mandela wins the Presidency, and is trying to unite his "Rainbow Nation." Now a little background about sports in South Africa at the time (summarized neatly in the opening scenes): blacks play football (soccer) on rundown, dirty fields; whites play rugby on green, well-maintained fields. The national rugby team, the Springboks, is very popular among the whites but blacks routinely root against them as they view the team as a symbol of Apartheid.

In this environment, Mandela makes a political gamble and backs the Springboks over officials who want to remove the name and colors. His reasoning is that he can never unite black and white Africans if his government does everything the whites were afraid of--like remove their beloved cultural icons. But as the story unfolds, and Mandela enlists team captain Francois Pienaar (Mat Damon) to inspire his struggling team to greatness in the 1995 World Cup, it becomes rather clear that this is more than political, Mandela's a true fan of rugby. And soon, thanks to outreach efforts ordered from the top, the whole country is as well.

Freeman, Damon, and Eastwood are all at the top of their game in this film, and although the ending is pre-ordained to anyone with the basic googling skills to look up the winner of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the climactic scenes are still tense and exciting.

The title INVICTUS comes from a poem by William Ernest Henley (famous ending lines: I am the master of my fate/I am the captain of my soul) which Mandela read to inspire himself during his imprisonment. In the movie, he gives a copy of it to Pienaar to inspire the team, although that story is apparently apocryphal. But the scene where Pienaar tours Mandela's old cell and imagines him reciting it is powerful. And by letting us see it through Pienaar's point of view it's an example of where Eastwood figured out how to broaden the scope without digressing from the narrative.

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the subplot involving Mandela's security detail and his controversial decision to hire white agents (who protected the previous President DeClerke). Trust-building starts on many fronts, and ultimately they're all professionals doing their jobs.

Oh, and one last thing. I'm wary of believing this is intentional, but in the atmosphere of fear and mistrust depicted among many at the start of Mandela's Presidency, I can't help but think about our current President. Again, I'm not saying it was meant to make that parallel, I'm just putting it out there.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Jason goes to Alaska and watches SHERLOCK HOLMES

Okay, I was actually in Anchorage, AK for a vacation with my family, but while I was there, we did see Guy Ritchies's new take on the classic detective.

I am by no means a Holmes scholar, but I did read a collection (I think the complete tales, Volume 1) some years ago. By my faulty memory, here are some things they got right:

Holmes is an athlete--many film versions show Holmes as the brain and Watson as the brawn, but in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, Holmes outclassed nearly everyone in intelligence and strength.
Irene Adler is a real character, and did outfox Holmes (I believe twice)

Things they got wrong:
Holmes and Moriarty (minor, unimportant spoiler) do tangle several times before Watson's engagement.
Although Holmes did use coccaine, and Watson did express concern, Holmes was far from an inveterate drunk during his down time, and his drug use never became a problem.

Things they got...different:
This is an action movie, while the books are far more cerebral.
I don't recall the books ever getting into the supernatural as much as this movie did.

Anyway, as for the quality of the movie itself--I liked it. Robert Downey Jr. is perfect as Holmes, Jude Law plays off him very well as Watson, and the action is engaging and fun. The caper is about Lord Blackwood, a very evil man who is put to death at the conclusion of Holmes and Watson's final case together
If you think about Guy Ritchie's ouvre (minus SWEPT AWAY), you'll see that with LOCK, STOCK, AND THREE SMOKING BARRELS, SNATCH, and ROCK 'N ROLLA he's really been making Sherlock Holmes action flicks for a long time, just with different names and more criminals. (And if you think about SWEPT AWAY, you should punch youself in the brain until you stop*) So he's a perfect fit here, and I'm looking forward to the inevitable sequel (latest rumors--Brad Pitt as Prof. Moriarty)

Oh yeah, and while I was there I also re-watched WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE at the Bear Tooth Theatre Pub. I have nothing to add to my previous review other than my adorable five year old neice liked it, too, and didn't find it scary. Oh, and I liked watching it while drinking beer and eating nachos.

*I've never actually seen SWEPT AWAY, I just heard it sucked. But I couldn't resist a snarky dig.