Saturday, February 27, 2010
Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 4
First up, I went to a Norwegian nut-house in THE HOUSE OF FOOLS. The movie is not as funny as the title might suggest. In fact, it's not a comedy at all, it's a drama about mental illness and suicide. It opens with a grimly beautiful scene of Aina (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) throwing herself through a storefront window. The raining shards of glass become a repeating motif in the film, reappearing to reflect her fractured psyche many times. She wakes up badly scarred, but alive, in a madhouse. Big strong Odin is throwing the TV around, another patient is swearing uncontrollably (Tourette's, of course). The head psychiatrist is little help (we learn later that he's almost as messed up as his patients), and he and Aina butt heads frequently. Although she's in an unsecured ward and technically free to go whenever, another suicide attempt (this time with a plastic bag over her head) shows how she's not ready to go. She stays, she falls in love with Stetson (not sure if that's actually his name, or he's just nicknamed for his hat). Problem is, he works there and that's not really allowed. There are glimpses of hope, and there's obviously a part of her who wants to want to live. And there's hope, as one patient, Maria, goes off her meds and actually gets better. Turns out, she was suffering more from side effects than anything. The group goes out to a fancy dinner to celebrate, and things go well until one final (and rather arbitrary) twist. All in all, a difficult subject handled with the utmost of taste, care, judiciously doled-out humor, and an excellent ensemble cast.
HOUSE OF FOOLS has one last showing on 3/1 at 4:30 pm.
Then I just time to grab a quick beer at the tail end of the VIP Soiree at The South First Billiards Club before I headed back to the theater for the World Premiere of GABI ON THE ROOF IN JULY. Sam (director-writer Lawrence Michael Levine) lives in New York, and is the responsible one among his roommates. At least, he's the one who pays the rent, when he can. He's not that responsible at returning phone calls, since his cell phone won't hold a charge. His sister Gabi (Sophia Takal, who is not actually Levine's sister, she's his fiance) is visiting for the summer. She's a wild, hilarious free spirit. While they're both artists, he wants to get his paintings into galleries while she eschews that scene for more wild experience pieces. Oh yeah, and her art often involves getting naked, which is a nice little treat for the audience (twister and whipped cream, very nice!). In fact, it was appropriate that GABI featured "Naked Day," since it actually was the start of "Naked Night" at Cinequest. This and the next two movies I saw featured full frontal nudity. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Sam's life gets extra complicated when his ex comes back to town (from San Francisco) with an offer to buy some of his paintings for a gallery show. Problem is, his current girlfriend is more than a little jealous and kind of freaks out (I have to admit, I was waiting the whole movie for them to break up. I didn't like her character). Bigger problem, it looks like Sam might just want to go back to his ex, and dude, that's just not cool. Nobody in this movie is perfect, though. As much as I kinda fell in love with Gabi, she is naive and she does make a poor decision that ends with her getting hurt. And sometimes her "free spirit" is really more childish (like the job interview scene. Funny the way she pulls it off, but I don't know any 5 year old who hasn't played that game).
Besides being very funny, GABI ON THE ROOF IN JULY also has a very real, very free-flowing energy to it. In the Q&A, they talked about endless rehearsals where all the character's back stories were completely explicated, even if it wouldn't show up in the movie. Well, that effort payed off. And by the way, as much as it might look improvised, they claimed all but a few lines were actually scripted (they just shots after months of improvised rehearsals).
GABI ON THE ROOF IN JULY plays again 2/27 at 9:00 pm and 3/3 at 5:00 pm
Naked Night at Cinequest continued with another awesome World Premiere, PEEPERS. Montreal's underground cinema/comedy troupe Automatic Vaudeville (THE RECOMMENDATIONS from Indiefest 2005) has gone above ground with like, a budget and stuff. It suits them well, and they've held on to their slyly twisted sensibilities. PEEPERS is a hilarious story of peeping toms and the Peeper's code. Set up by Billingsly shortly after WWI: Don't peep a "shower" (exhibitionist), don't peep another peeper, don't peep a peeper's family, don't peep children, don't pleasure yourself while peeping. And in a newer technological twist, don't videotape your peeps. The leader of a crew of Montreal rooftop peepers--and the keeper of the code--is Steve "Eagle Eyes" Sherman (Joe Cobden). They have a whole system set up, walkie-talkies, code words, letters for each roof, etc. But trouble comes in the form of a female peeper. Actually, it's Annette Fulvish (Janine Theriault), a professor at a local university who is doing a study of voyeurism. She's really peeping the peepers, and Steve, for one, doesn't like it. In fact, as she gets into it and finds she's really good at it (and really likes searching for "Tits, Ass, Cock, and Balls") Steve goes on the biggest cold streak of his career. Just goes to show, women destroy everything (or maybe it's academia that destroys everything). So badly, in fact, that over the course of the film I do believe all of the code is broken. Anyway, it's a hilarious film, and I'm glad to have the Automatic Vaudeville guys back in town. Oh yeah, and the best line: "Fine! Have fun having sex with women!"
PEEPERS plays again 2/28 at 9:15 pm and 3/2 at 1:30 pm
And then I just had time for one quick beer at the official meet-up spot of the night--The Loft--and back for the late, late show, 7 DAYS. This was not an easy movie to end the night on. Good luck sleeping after this one. A French Canadian story of a successful surgeon and loving father Bruno Hamel and his family. Their 8-year old daughter didn't show up for school one afternoon, and before the body is even found recriminations fly between him and his wife. He missed the phone call because he was taking a nap. The wife let their daughter walk to school because she wanted to make love to him. But quickly, their daughter's body is found, dead, and with evidence of rape. And the police have a suspect, and it's time for the legal system to do its job. They have him dead to rights and he'll be locked up for about 25 years. That's not good enough for Bruno. So he kidnaps the guy, takes him to a secret location, and tortures the hell out of him. Starting with tying him naked to a table (oh yeah, this is part of Naked Night at Cinequest, but not in a good way) and smashing his kneecap with a sledgehammer. And it gets worse from there. The 7 days of the title are a countdown to the daughter's birthday, which is now the day that Bruno plans to kill the rapist. And he lets his wife, and the cops, know that. While they desperately try to find him and stop him, he bides his time--he has a plan. This movie is amazing, the special effects are astounding and every scene is 100% effective. And I never want to see it again.
7 DAYS plays again 3/1 at 9:15 pm.
Total Running Time: 390 minutes
My Total Minutes: 173,308
Friday, February 26, 2010
Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 3
Three more movies last night. Starting with my first (I assume of many) last minute changes of plan. Based on certain tweets, I eschewed LEFT and skipped out of work a little earlier to see CAMAMBERT ROSE. Judging by my experience an yet more tweets, I might've made the wrong choice. CAMEMBERT ROSE is a story of coming of age (when you're 20), getting out of your father's shadow, and learning to like cheese. Daniel is a quiet young man, studying medicine to be like his father, a very successful gynecologist. And by "successful" I mean he didn't get the nickname "Pussy Pope" from his medical practice. Daniel, however, is saving himself for true love. And he might have found it with a charming woman from the local pool. They chat online, but he doesn't have the guts to talk to her in person. For this, his father mocks him mercilessly. So Daniel escapes his father for the summer by travelling to France (oh yeah, from Hungary, this film in Hungarian) to stay with his uncle (dead mom's brother) for the season. But the separation teaches him to both appreciate and live without his father. He also plays this really cool UFO-like metal drum, and the musical scenes are some of the best.
There's really nothing to not like about the movie. I chuckled in quite a few places, but a lot of it just felt kind of flat. Also, there were technical glitches in the projection that ruined a few scenes. But mostly, when I read something like this from @memepunk: "I think LEFT is subtly fantastic. Reminiscent of both Antonioni's RED DESERT and Lynch's LOST HIGHWAY. Very glad I didn't miss it." it makes me think I made the wrong choice.
CAMEMBERT ROSE plays again on 2/26 at noon and 2/28 at 2:15 pm.
Anyway after a couple quick glasses of wine at the VIP Soiree at Il Fornaio, I went to see a movie that was absolutely the right choice--the Chinese action-comedy flick, THE ROBBERS. A period piece with a rock and roll soundtrack (at least for the fight scenes), it takes place in the Tang dynasty and is the adventure of a pair of travelling robber brothers and the village they rob, then protect, then are imprisoned in, then escape, etc. While robbing an old man and his daughter, they see soldiers approaching. They hid inside while the soldiers barge in, look around, and proceed to attempt to rape the daughter. Well, the one robber who was talking to her (definitely the kinder one, who would prefer to settle down in a life of farming with a good wife) won't stand for it, so he jumps out and kills the soldiers. Not good, that carries a death sentence. There's an ongoing debate about law vs. mercy throughout the movie, and allegiances change as the robbers are variously treated as vicious criminals and protecting heroes. The fighting scenes are awesome, the lighter moments are pretty funny (dick jokes are funny in any culture). I'm officially nominating this movie for a Nobel Prize in Awesome.
THE ROBBERS plays again 2/27 at 1:30 pm and 3/4 at noon. Go see it!
And I ended the night with Shorts Program #2: DARK, DEEP, AND DANGEROUS
ADELAIDE: A woman addicted to medical attention finds true love with a pharmacist/paramedic in training. Hilarious and romantic.
DIPLOMACY: The real trust in international relations is built between the translators. Funny and I like to think it's true.
IRREPARABLE: A couple fights, ostensibly over a burglary but really over their dead son.
MORNING ECHO: If you celebrate Christmas in October because you're afraid your sick daughter will die before Christmas, then what do you do if she survives to December 25th? I was struck by this movie and how everyone has their own, selfish agenda and no one works together. Just like a real family!
NIGHT MAYOR: Guy Maddin (genius!) reveals the story of the man who built the Telemelodium in Winnipeg. A device that translates the music of the Aurora Borealis into moving pictures. No, I didn't get that backwards.
OUT OF THE BLUE: A romance between a man and a TV. Very funny.
THE PROPOSAL: A couple plays cruel, masochistic games with each other. Just remember to take the bullets out of the gun.
THE WHIRLING DERVISH: A young Muslim American, the Sheikh he takes guidance from, and the neighbor who tempts him. Great performances by all.
And then the movies were all over. Just time to grab a beer at the official watering hole of the night--Fahrenheit Lounge, and then back home. Ready for the big weekend to start.
Total Running Time: 292 minutes
My Total Minutes: 173,025
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 2
Fighting a bit of a cold, but crack addicts don't stop smoking crack just because they've got a cough and the sniffles, and I have marginally more stamina than the average crack addict. I'm sure as long as I get plenty of rest, I'll be fine. Oh wait, I'm getting no rest because I'm watching movies late into the evening then it's up at 6 am to go to my real job. If I didn't rock so hard, I'd be dead by now.
Anyway, some movies last night...
First up, DAYS OF DESIRE from Hungary. Here's all you need to know, Anna is mute, but very observant. And the actress who plays here does a brilliant job communicating with just the slightest gestures. She gets a job as a housekeeper for a couple, and quickly becomes their surrogate daughter. See, their real daughter died in a car accident, with an Italian man they didn't know (absentee parents, perhaps?) The couple is pretty dysfunctional--he lost his job as a doctor because he drank, she's trying to move up in her business by flirting with her boss, but Anna actually keeps it from going to far. It's interesting how a mute but attentive audience (which, come to think of it, is what I am in the theater) profoundly changes reality around her, bringing hidden issues to the surface. In a side plot, she attracts the attention of an employee at the store where she shops (proving again that the best way to attract some people is to not talk to them), and the scenes of their courtship are the sweetest in the movie. But then they have a fight over such a trivial misunderstanding that I totally stopped sympathizing with him. Oh well. I'll finish this one the way I began, by pointing out that the actress who played Anna was amazing.
DAYS OF DESIRE plays again 2/27 at 4:45 pm and 3/1 at 12:30 pm.
So then I ran off to catch just a bit of the VIP Soiree at Morocco's. A quick glass of sangria, about 5 minutes of belly-dancing (I watched, I didn't dance), and then I jogged to the beautiful California Theater for LIFE IN ONE DAY, A high-concept sci-fi romantic comedy from The Netherlands. In this imaginary world, life lasts one day. So every experience is to be treasured. People gather at the beach to celebrate the one sunrise they will ever see. In the morning, children go to school. By noon, they are fully grown, ready to fall in love, have sex once, and then let the libido die and get on with the rest of their life. In theology, they're taught that the singular nature of every event is what makes life special, and heaven is a singularity of all good events compressed into an infinitely small moment. Hell, on the other hand, is repetition. A world where every day is like the last, and you can, for example, make love so many times it loses all its specialness. Well, after Benny and Gini fall in love and have sex the one time they're allowed in their live, they find they're one of the unlucky couples for whom love (and lust) doesn't fade after they orgasm. So they think about it, struggle with it, and decide that they must go to hell, where they can be together over and over and over again.
And their plan works...sort of. They go to hell (i.e., this world), but separately. The latter ~2/3 of the movie are in split screen one side showing Gini's story, and one side showing Benny's. And the technique is intriguing, clever, and a little exhausting (especially reading subtitles on both sides). They have many near encounters, but eventually move on, and ostensibly learn lessons about how love fades. There's a mysterious blind man (who put the idea into their head to begin with) who I took as the devil but a more literal reading says no, he's just another guy who wanted to go to hell. I could go on, but I don't want to give more away. I think I'll let director Mark de Cloe's words speak for the film: “It’s time that makes you forget love, it’s time that blunts love, it’s time that makes love die. But thank goodness it’s love that is best at fending off time.”
LIFE IN ONE DAY is almost two movies. And the first movie is a little mind-blowing, until you think too much about it--how did Benny learn to fly a fighter jet so quickly? How do people build fighter jets if life is just one day? Why do they even have fighter jets, or wars? Why have a justice system with a death penalty? These you just sort of have to take at face value. The second half is a long examination of love and time, and a technically daring use of split-screen that is pulled off better than anything this side of Brian De Palma.
LIFE IN ONE DAY plays again 2/27 at 9:45 pm
So then off for another drink at the official meet up location, which was way over at the Hotel de Anza, a good 15 minute walk away (fortunately, the rest of the meet ups are at closer location). So I walked there, had a quick martini, chatted with the few Cinequesters who were there (it was pretty empty at the time), and walked right back to the California for THE BONE MAN. So today the movies took me to Hungary, The Netherlands, and now Germany. What a European trip. Anyway, THE BONE MAN was black comedy at its blackest, just the way I like it. There are severed fingers, ground up bones, tortured Russians, stolen cars, family rivalries...I'm getting ahead of myself (and I can't really keep everything clear in my mind). Brenner is a repo man. Used to be a cop, now he just takes back cars. His boss sends him to the country to get Mr. Horvath's car. He arrives at a small country inn where he notices Horvath's car in the parking lot. But no one in there will admit to having ever heard of Horvath, they're hostile to him when he asks, and as soon as he turns around Horvath's car is missing...and so is his. So he's stuck there. And wacky hijinx ensue. It was a bit too much for me to digest in one sitting, and I was kind of tired so I struggled to stay awake. But I'm going to go ahead and assume I was laughing at the right parts.
THE BONE MAN Plays again on 2/26 at 4:00 pm, and 2/27 at 11:15 am. If only I had time to watch it again, I'm sure I'd get more the second time.
Total Running Time: 319 minutes
My Total Minutes: 172,918
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Jason goes to Cinequest--Opening Night
It seems like just a few days ago that Indiefest ended, and now an even bigger (i.e., too big to actually see everything) party starts--Cinequest!
I'm officially press again this year, and I'm officially giving my regular VIP pass away again. But this year, instead of the "pass-it-on" pass, I gave it to one person who swears she'll write up the whole festival from her perspective--@memepunk aka Mary Szmagaj (one of my goals of the festival: learn how to pronounce her name). Check out her writing at http://cinebum.blogspot.com/ and CQCentral.com where I'll be cross-posting, too.
Anyway, I got to downtown San Jose and got my press time in time to run to the pre-party Soiree at El Diablos to say hi to people and down a few mojitos. Then it was back to the Cal, get in line, get inside (nice, it was raining), run back outside to give @memepunk her pass, then back inside for the opening night festivities.
I settled into my front row center seat, chatted with more friends who came by (@jbwhaley, @gingercarden and @pergamond sat right behind me), and finally the show started. Halfdan, the guy who IS Cinequest came out. He talked about being a Maverick, about the various programs they have this year, about discovery, inspiration, etc...
Whatever, and there was a film, THE GOOD HEART. Brian Cox plays Jaques, a consummate curmudgeon. He's the kind of guy who has a heart attack after exploding in rage at a relaxation tape. And when he arrives in the hospital, the nurses, doctors, and staff are so used to him having heart attacks that they ask him why he doesn't just die already. Turns out, that's not just a joke, most everyone who knows him knows he's an asshole and wishes he were dead. Meanwhile, Paul Dano plays Lucas, a sweet-hearted, generous homeless guy. He's in the hospital for a suicide attempt (one of many character incongruities) and is roommates with Jaques. And with this odd couple meeting, the plot unfolds. Jaques owns a bar, and wants someone to keep it going just his way when he's gone. He stubbornly refuses to serve anyone but regulars and keeps the Oyster-related name long after it stopped serving oysters (because one customer got poisoned). To him, a bar's name never changes, coffee must be perfect, and a bartender must never make friends. It's this last rule that Lucas has the most trouble with, even breaking it to the point of meeting a French girl, April, and getting married.
The story unfolds in a predictable matter (yes, although Jaques is ostensibly teaching Lucas, he learns more. And I predicted the end about 10 minutes in.) And I didn't believe the character arcs (both Jacques becoming kind and Lucas becoming bitter feel contrived). But I did laugh a lot, especially at the odd collection of regulars at the bar (including a garbage man, a florist, and a male prostitute...excuse me, "stimulator"). So I guess it was pretty worthwhile. And judging by the people I talked to at the after party, they were much more forgiving than I was. Perhaps I'm just becoming more jaded.
Speaking of the after party, that was at E&O Trading Co. Good drinks, good food (especially the corn fritters), but way to crowded. Same story as the closing night party last year. Memo to Cinequest: E&O is great for a mid-week soiree, but too small for opening or closing night!
And now, the real hard core film watching begin!
Monday, February 22, 2010
Jason goes to Bad Movie Night to see THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3
I don't think these filmmakers could even count to 1, 2, 3. And they cast Tony Soprano as the mayor? Really?
So John Travolta steals a train...which is a great getaway plan because trains can go anywhere. And Denzel Washington is the dispatcher who talks to him and ends up having to negotiate the whole situation. Normally I'd point out that it's sad to see an actor of Washington's caliber slumming it in such a dumb movie. But that doesn't go far enough. So instead I'll just say it's sad to see an actor of Travolta's caliber slum it in such a dumb movie. And that's not even something I said about BATTLEFIELD EARTH.
Jason watches THE COVE
In a small town in Japan, dolphins are captured to be sold to SeaWorld type water shows. But the real crime is what happens to the dolphins who aren't chosen. They're taken to a secluded cove where no one can see them being slaughtered for food (food that is incredibly high in mercury, and basically toxic).
Richard O'barry is the star of the film. He made a fortune training the dolphins for "Flipper," became an activist after he witnessed the intelligence of the dolphins and was convinced they couldn't live happily in captivity. And the whole movie is a quest to get footage of what goes on in that cove.
And even if you're not motivated by the plight of dolphins in Japan, you can be amazed at the team they assemble and the spy tactics they use to get footage of the cove. Military grade night vision cameras (which are illegal to take out of America), cameras hidden in fake rocks (with the help of some ILM model makers), daring midnight missions to plant all of this, etc. And then the footage, as amazing and clear as it is shocking. There's an amazing scene from an underwater camera that starts out clear blue, a school of fish swim by. And then it slowly turns dark red from all the blood in the water. Nauseating, and amazing.
Jason watches PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL PUSH BY SAPPHIRE
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for Beau Geste (and a couple of shorts)
First short, CHARACTER STUDIES (1925): Carter DeHaven is an amazing impressionist. He does impeccable makeup disguises of the great stars of the day. Why, I could swear he literally turned into Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Fatty Arbuckle, Rudolph Valentino, and Douglas Fairbanks. And I still can't figure out how he shrunk himself to become Jackie Coogan. It was a riot!
Then THE TRAMP (1915): Shot just up the road in Niles, it's the movie that made history by "naming" and indelibly linking Chaplin to his little tramp character. Charlie saves Edna Purviance from some hobos (cleverly using the brick they switched for his sandwich). Out of gratitude, her father gives him...work. And so he causes no small amount of chaos as a farmhand. The hobos return, and Charlie saves the family again. But when he realizes he'll never get his hoped-for reward (Edna's hand in marriage), he hits the road again, walking right up Niles Canyon. Awesome to finally see this on the big screen.
And after an intermission, the feature film BEAU GESTE (1926): Famously remade many times, I've seen no versions, and so I've started with the first. The movie opens with a battalion of the French Foreign Legion approaching a fort, warned of an impending Arab attack. They find a mysterious scene. First a trumpeter goes over the wall, and disappears. So the captain goes over. He finds everyone dead (but propped up on the walls to appear as a defending force). The fort's commander is dead, with a french bayonet in his back. Another corpse is holding a letter of confession about a sapphire called "The Blue Water". The captain opens the gate, walks out, and starts describing the scene to his men. And then the fort spontaneously catches fire, and burns to the ground. The rest of the movie is about getting us back to that scene.
Flash back to the Geste brothers--Michael (Beau), John, and Digby--as young boys in England. They're from an aristocratic family, and play at being soldiers. The Blue Water is a family treasure. But the family is on hard times, and has to sell it. So Beau steals it and runs away, or so says his note. In fact, John claims he's only covering for him, and he runs away too. And Digby does the same, all covering for each other. And they all, to escape their self-condemnation, join the French Foreign Legion. There they are split up, but the bonds of brotherhood are stronger than any bond, and they brave the desert, a sadistic commander, attack by Arabs, and a plot to steal Blue Water. All ending in a viking funeral in the desert.
An amazing adventure film, epic in scope, and made more amazing by Jon Mirsalis, who provided the score. And this night, we wheeled the piano away and he brought in his synthesizer for not just a piano score but trumpets, gunshots, and even howling desert wind. Awesome
Total Running Time: 139 minutes
My Total Minutes: 172,196
Jason goes to Indiefest--Closing Night
I only saw one movie the final night, and that was the documentary THE ART OF THE STEAL. It's the story of the Barnes Foundation, an institution just outside of Philadelphia (that's important) that is the world's greatest collection of Post-Impressionistic art. It's the story of the man, Dr. Barnes, who used his fortune to collect early works of Renoir, Cézanne and Matisse, etc. before the rest of the art world recognized them as masters. In fact, when he did a showing at the Philadelphia museum of art, they called it horrible. So he had no further use for them, and was famous for not letting art critics tour his collection, while he would let plumbers tour it. This remained true as the masters he collected became recognized as masters and the value of his collection grew (now valued at $25 billion). He also set up the Barnes Foundation as first and foremost a school of art, and considered his role as an educator paramount. In his will, he insisted (among other things) that his art never be sold, never be loaned out, and his foundation always be a school. And to safeguard this, he willed his collection to Lincoln University, which at the time was a small but prestigious all black school. And this movie is about how the foundations of Philadelphia conspired to in all but name steal his art (or control of his foundation) from his legacy and make it a tourist attraction in downtown Philadelphia. The mayor of Philadelphia, Governor Ed Rendell, and foundations such as the Pew and the Annenberg (late Inquirer publish Walter Annenberg fought with Dr. Barnes constantly) conspired to wrest control away and move the foundation to Philadelphia, which upsets a lot of long-time Barnes supporters. At least, that is the case of the movie. And it's convincingly made, and very slickly put together, but I can't help noticing it only tells one side of the story. Sure, a lot of people refused to be interviewed for the movie, and I can understand why. But it does leave me with questions. Most notably, while Dr. Barnes put so much emphasis on education, it seems by the end the filmmakers are putting all their focus on real estate--it's all about moving the art 5 miles away. They don't even get into whether the new location will continue the teaching tradition (I've been informed by a friend who used to live in Philadelphia that the answer is "yes," but the movie doesn't say that). In a way, I feel like while Dr. Barnes would've certainly refused to move, maybe the supporters (and filmmakers) are worrying more about Dr. Barnes' legacy of giving Philadelphia elites a middle finger and less about what is best for the art. Still, a very engaging movie that at least in the moment had me convinced. Oh, and the little line item in the Pennsylvania state budget allocating funds to move the Barnes exhibit 5 years before the court order allowing it...that's a pretty convincing piece of evidence for a conspiracy there.
And now, Indiefest 2010 is in the books.
Running Time: 101 minutes
My Total Minutes: 172,057
Jason goes to Indiefest--The Penultimate Day
First up, an Iranian film, NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT PERSIAN CATS. It's somewhat misleadingly billed as a documentary. In fact, it's a reenactment of real events, starring the real people it happened to. Negar and Ashkan are a musical duo who were recently released from prison. Their music (alternative rock) is banned by the authorities, so they play in hidden underground clubs while working to put a band together. Since they can't play in Iran, they have a grand plan to play in London. All they need is money, passports, and the rest of a band. Not so easy. In fact, it seems the easiest part is finding other underground musicians to play with them. The movie features performances by a half dozen outlawed Iranian musicians, and is really half plot and half a series of music videos. And it's an exciting look into the lives and culture that we never see--young people in Iran trying to defy the authorities and remake the world. And, in fact, the older generations who love them for it. The grandmother who loves alternative rock and wants to go to London to see them is pretty amusing.
And while the Persian Cats never quite made it to London (oops, spoiler alert), the night ended in England with AT THE FOOT OF A TREE. A tale of revenge, violence, and hiding from the cops. One night, a young boy goes and gets revenge on members of his extended families (who are bullies, although their violence is never really shown, just talked about). They don't show you what he did, and there's just lots of yelling about it. His big brother decides to hid him in the attic until it all blows over. The whole story is told non-linearly, starting with the immediate aftermath and working back to the reasons behind his actions and culminating with what he actually did. Spoiler alert (highlight to read): It was murder. But I don't know anyone who didn't think that immediately. So I really don't understand the out-of-order sequence and trying to keep that a secret, other than it drags out the movie for a while. But really, for what's in there, it would've worked better as a 20-40 minute short.
Oh yeah, and there was a performance by My Favourite Things, who did the soundtrack, before the film. They were pretty cool.
Total Running Time: 185 minutes
My Total Minutes: 171,956
Friday, February 19, 2010
Jason goes to Indiefest--Day N-2
I've lost count...so I'm counting back from the end. Two more movies.First up, CIGARETTE GIRL. In a near-future hellscape, smokers are restricted to the "smoking section" slums of all big cities. There, in the Vice(roy) club, works Cigarette Girl. She sells cigarettes, but is in trouble for a) selling cigarettes at a discount on the sly, thereby undercutting her boss Ace, b) stealing the company car to drive her ailing grandma (dying of emphysema) to the hospital, and c) not coming in to work or returning the car for three days because she was taking care of her grandma. So Ace sends Hatcheck Girl and Johnny Valet after her and hires a punk runaway to replace her. Cigarette Girl quits smoking, borrows her grandma's gun for protection, and goes on a bit of a rampage. Quitting is tough on everybody. Oh yeah, and she's haunted by her former lover Cowboy, the representative of her previous cigarette brand, in a pretty unsubtle depiction of the ghost of addiction. The film is mostly good, crazy fun, although some of the execution is a bit sub-par, even for an Indie film. The acting is pretty cheesy and the pacing is surprisingly slow for what should be a more balls-to-the-walls cult action flick.
By the way, director John Michael McCarthy is an oooold Indiefest alum. Like, his movies played at Indiefest before my time (pre-2002).The next film was also by an Indiefest alum, Sean Garrity was here in 2003(?) With INerTia, which I did see..twice--in both Indiefest and Cinequest. Funny story of love, trust, infidelity, and water supply. And very different from his new film.
He's back with a much darker and much more independent (he introduced himself as "the entire crew") ZOOEY & ADAM. Zooey and Adam are trying to have a baby. So the try in bed, in the car, and on a camping trip by a lake outside of Winnipeg (their hometown). There, they are attacked and she is raped. The scene is not graphic, it's in the dark so you mostly see flashlights and hear screams. But soon after they find she's pregnant. And she doesn't want to know if it's Adam's or the rapist's. But she's keeping it either way. (By the way, this is apparently a source of some controversy, like keeping a baby conceived by rape is anti-feminist. According to Garrity, almost half of the women in her situation do keep it). Well, although she was far more violated in the attack, Adam is the one who can't let it go. He tries to get a DNA test. He looks into "his" son's face trying to see either his own face or the attacker's. When their son starts acting out in day care, he takes it as evidence that he was "born bad". And it really feels weird to say it, but she treats him really, really bad about it. She keeps him from seeing the results of the DNA test, she gives him no sympathy (understandable that she went through the greater trauma), and it all leads to a pretty dramatic and traumatic ending.
Total Running Time: 163 minutes
My Total Minutes: 171,771
Monday, February 15, 2010
Jason goes to Indiefest --Day 12
Heading into the final stretch. Two more films last night, and now just five more left in the whole festival. Guess I gotta start preparing for Cinequest soon. Here's the movies on the night of a President's Day that I really needed for rest.First up was EASIER WITH PRACTICE, a drama carefully crafted for realism and sensitivity (and based on a true story). Davy is a shy writer of short stories. He's going on a book tour, speaking to rooms of maybe a dozen people if he's lucky, and then going to bars and not having the courage to talk to women. But his brother Sean, just "along for the ride," has no such problems. One night in his hotel, he gets a call out of the blue, and it's a breathy, seductive woman named Nicole. They have phone sex, she won't give him his number, but he gives her his, and she calls back several times. Quickly it becomes about more than just sex, as they talk about many other things. It's really the most successful relationship he's ever had, which is in very sharp contrast to his real life romantic attempts. He's a shy intellectual, and can't really talk to anyone but Nicole. As I said, it's a carefully crafted film, and the performances are fantastic. The ending is not that hard to predict, but the care and sensitivity put into it is surprising.
And then after a quick beer (support the sponsors--have a Trumer Pils at Gestalt), I settled in for some bizarre garbage made with no care at all, ACCESS DENIED. It's a compilation of public access TV clips (seems most were either from San Francisco, Austin, New York, or Winnipeg), and it's insane what some people will put on the air. The show was divided into three chapters. First up, "Calling It In"--weird clips from call-in shows. Mostly profanity riddled, often with the callers abusing the hosts (although plenty the other way around). Second was "The Arts"--performers really hoping to become famous (and did I see Blossom in there, or did that girl just really look like Mayim Bialik?). So...many...awful...performers. Easily the most excruciating of the chapters. And we end it with "Outre"--the really strange ones, like Guy Maddin's survival guide.I think I forgot to mention that the 80's power ballad sing-along yesterday came with free booze. This show needed the same. Still, it was fun to heckle, and I'm going to go ahead and assume I was supposed to.
Total Running Time: 160 minutes
My Total Minutes: 171,608
Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 11
Sunday. Chinese New Year (today begins the Year of the Tiger--my year). President's Day Eve. John Barrymore's Birthday. Cheesefare sunday (last day orthodox Christians can eat dairy until Easter). Ferris Wheel Day. And for my Germanic followers, it's Fasching Sunday. Did I miss anything? Okay, let me tell you about the movies.First up, Alfred Hitchcock starred in DOUBLE TAKE. That's right, famed director Alfred Hitchcock. Johan Grimonprez built a collage of footage from Hitchcock's films (featuring THE BIRDS and TOPAZ), his TV shows, and Folger's commercials. Mixed it with news footage from the cold war--spanning the period from VP Nixon meeting with Kruschev up to JFK, the Bay of Pigs, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Add in a professional Hitchcock look-alike and a sound-alike, and he creates a story of doppelgangers, spies, time travel, murder and television killing cinema. Absolutely amazing, my head is still spinning.
This was the last screening of DOUBLE TAKE in the festival. Sorry.So then I saw the shorts program An Animated World. Yay, cartoons:
BACKWARDS: A reverse story of love gone bad.
LIGHT HEADED: Wax critters on an adventure outside the candle.
UNBELIEVABLE 4: It's the final countdown--starring Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Rice.
DOWN TO THE BONE: Hilariously sick story of a boy who sneezes himself inside-out
MANIFESTATIONS: It's a little trippy hallucination of a little greenish-yellow cloud man.
FUZZY INSIDES: Stop motion. Hilarious. Gross.
'NSTACHARGE: Robot love, at the recharging station. Poor Rusty.
THE FALCON: Flying bits of antique cameras. It was awesome.
LEV: A janitor...with radio antenna and speaker earphones.
DAVE TALKS ABOUT STUFF AND THINGS: That would be David Lynch. Recorded bits of interviews, animated.
PAUSE REPLAY: Cameras in love, and in death.
BROTHERS IN ARMS: Box Head and Round Head are friends, until the bombs start falling.
ROUE: Dreams of scary mushrooms and marching...somethings.
SO THEN DON'T WAIT: A bus ride...that was so washed out it was hard to see anything. I can't wait for the Roxie to replace their projector.
ENTERING THE MIND THROUGH THE MOUTH: Korean story of a cat with the mind of a boy and a mouse with the mind of a girl. They actually like each other, although the circus master won't let them. This dragged on too long.
An Animated World plays again Monday, Feb 15th at 7:15
So next up I caught the sneak preview/world premiere of a movie I had seen before--CORNER STORE. Okay, I had seen a rough cut earlier. And here's what I wrote at the time:
It's the story of Yousef (Joseph) Elhaj, a Palestinian man who moved to San Francisco 10 years ago (with his father, who passed away and was only mentioned briefly in this cut of the film). He's a quiet, cheerful man who has operated a little corner grocery store, saving up money for his family. He even lived and slept in the back of the store (his apartment/office) the whole time (one of my favorite scenes was when he was in the back talking about how much he enjoys the rare times when he has company when he eats back there). Well, in the past year his decade-long dream became reality, and we get to follow him back to Palestine, meet his family, and eventually bring them to the U.S. (where Yousef finally has to move out of the back of the store and into a real home). His family is a pretty interesting mix. His wife is pretty quiet, he has an adorable daughter who plays tour guide, but most interesting is his eldest son who doesn't want to leave. Even living in occupation, he'd prefer to stay there and build a life in his home with his people (BTW, it's neither here nor there but the family are Palestinian Christians, not Muslims).I can stand by that review, but let me say a few things about the new cut. It's much, much better. First, maybe it's just from watching it a second time, but I think the story flows better. The "chapters" are more distinct--the neighborhood story, the immigrant sacrificing for his family story, the Palestine story, and finally the returning to America story (and eventually, bringing his family back). There's a new edit as he's preparing to leave Palestine again where they cut between people making arguments for staying and arguments for going. That, and his face, tells of the inner conflict he's too polite to talk about. I really liked that scene.
This is a movie that has a lot going on. There's the whole Palestinian occupation issue, there's community and the people who make neighborhoods special (a few months back I was listening to an NPR story about these so-call "significant strangers"), there's the immigrant story, and there's the touching human drama of the sacrifices Yousef makes for his family's future.
This was definitely still a rough cut, but it's very close to complete (this was supposed to be the last rough cut screening). There are bits that drag--most notably the traveling scenes (although there's one scene in the airport near the end that cuts to the heart of the film). But all in all, it's already pretty good and it's pretty close to ready for prime time.
CORNER STORE plays again Tuesday, Feb 16th at 9:30
And I ended the night with LOVE BITES: The 80's Power Ballad Sing-along. I got drunk with a lot of weirdos, we played old hair band love ballad videos, and sang along as loud as possible while still heckling the videos. It's exactly what it sounds like, and it was much more fun than it had any right to be. And since I do have the hair for it, I even got up in the front and head-banged to Shot Through the Heart to end the show. That's not something I thought I would do...ever.
Total Running Time: 376 minutes (based on an estimated 2 hours for LOVE BITES)
My Total Minutes: 171,448
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 10
So on Saturday I woke up about 11 am, feeling just a bit hungover. Actually, considering my adventures of the past night, I was surprised I didn't feel sicker. Then I dad the leftover sammich from IHOP, and felt sick again. So I'm thinking it wasn't just the pitcher of White Russians that made me sick. Thanks to Romany for identifying that I had a Philly Cheesesteak stacker. I won't be doing that again. In fact, new rule. If I'm at IHOP, even if I don't feel like pancakes, just stick to pancakes. A cheesesteak from a restaurant that specializes in pancakes is a sketchy proposition.
Oh yeah, and even though this is a tease until sometime in the fall, my amigos the Primitive Screwheads were there to promote their new show--The Two Gentlemen of Lebowski, inspired by W. Shakespeare and the Bros Coen. Should...be...awesome.
First up was a Superman documentary, LAST SON, about the secret origins of Superman. Like Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (the creators of Superman), director Brad Ricca hails from Cleveland. He's also not a filmmaker, he's a schoolteacher and this is his first crack at making a film. He's also obviously a Superman fan, and a tenacious researcher. He starts with the origin of the daddy issues in Superman. Kal-el, son of Jor-el, is the last son of the dying planet Krypton. As a baby his ship crash-landed on earth where he was raised by the good and simple Kents, who taught him the value of humanity, the race he would grow up to protect. Jerry Siegel, the writer of Superman, was the last son of Michel Siegel, an immigrant and Cleveland shop owner who was murdered by robbers one night (actually, the cause of death was heart attack, not gunshot wounds. A subtle but important distinction). A lot of the film's thesis is that this issue of fatherlessness, and specifically speaking to a dead father, plays out throughout the Superman stories. And it's pretty easy to be convinced of that. The other half of Superman's creation is Joe Shuster, an aspiring art student, who barely missed a scholarship to art school. He an Siegel became friends in high school, and worked together on the Glenville high school paper. After school they struggled as a free-lance comic writer/artist team, and pitched the Superman story many, many times before finally Action Comics ran with it, and the rest is history. Brad Ricca scours the pulp novels, bodybuilding magazines, and other comics of the period and pieces together a fascinating look at the origins. There's a wealth of information, but as the source material is pretty static, the film can't help but be, too. It gets a little tiring to have yet another shot of a Jerry Siegel short story or an early Joe Shuster cartoon with voice over narration. It picks up a bit in a few spots, notably the 1941 World's Fair in Flushing, NY which featured a Superman Day, and most notably interviews with Cleveland schoolchildren about what Superman means to them. Surprisingly, none of them know the story of Krypton, Kal-el, and Jor-el. But there's a beautiful ending line that sums up the movie perfectly when a little boy says he doesn't want Superman to be real--Superman is pretty cool, but he likes his daddy more.
By the way, Brad Ricca mentioned that he's also working on a book on the same subject. I have to admit, with all the source material a book would probably work much better, what with all those pages of stories, pictures, etc. that I really would've liked to get a better look at but which slow the movie down.
LAST SON doesn't have another official screening in the festival, but if you're a skier you can join Indiefest as they unwind at Sugar Bowl and play movies in the evening for free. They'll play LAST SON on Saturday, Feb. 27th at 7 pm. Judah Lounge, Sugar Bowl, North Tahoe.
So next up was an amazing long-form documentary from the Czech Republic, RENE. Oddly enough, with this and OH MY GOD! IT'S HARROD BLANK, Indiefest has two 20-years-in-the-making documentaries. But this one was something very special. In fact, nearly every year I dub one movie my "reward for seeing everything." That is, a movie that doesn't necessarily sound that interesting and that if I limited myself to only the dozen or so most interesting sounding movies, I'd probably miss. But then I see it and it blows me away. So far, RENE is that movie for me. The movie starts with René Plásil as a ~17 year old juvenile offender. He was in military school and stole something (I forget, or it was unspecified. The important thing is he didn't even need to) and the authorities throw the book at him. At this time he's a scrawny little kid, maybe has some authority issues, but isn't guaranteed to be the habitual recidivist he becomes. Documentary filmmaker Helena Trestíková interviews him, and sticks with him for the next 20 years. In that time, he's in jail, out of jail for bit, back in (the line "I'm calling/writing you from jail. What else is new?" becomes a bit of a running joke through the movie). He gets "Fuck Off People" tattooed on his neck, he gets other things tattooed on his arms. He becomes one scary looking dude, although he's not really a violent offender. And it seems this documentary attention does make him more introspective. He rights a couple of books about his life in and out of prison and his opinions on the world and life. This is, no doubt, a positive in his life. But it doesn't keep him out of trouble. The most frustrating thing is watching the moments of freedom where he seems to have his life together--he's a respected author, or he has a girlfriend who is keeping him out of trouble, or he's starting a completely legitimate import business to Slovakia--and then in the next scene he's calling Helena from prison again. Meanwhile, things are happening in Helena's life, too. Most notably in 2007 when she was appointed Minister of Culture (it didn't last, she resigned less than a month in). In a final attempt, she gives Rene a video camera with which to document himself, leading to an exciting prospect of an even more intimate, private look at this fascinating subject. He never returns the camera, and claims he only ever used it to make porn.
I've noticed in looking at some of my previous "Rewards for Seeing Everything" that there's a bit of a theme. RENE, SONG SUNG BLUE (Indiefest 2009), and MANHATTAN KANSAS (Indiefest 2007) are all documentaries. But more than that, they're all documentaries that give you way more of an intimate, unguarded look into their subjects lives than is typical. It still amazes me when people let their real lives be shown like that (and not the reality show "reality" of ridiculously contrived situations--real reality of real people's messed up lives).
RENE plays again Tuesday, Feb. 16th at 7:15
HARMONY AND ME closes the festival on Thursday, Feb. 18th at 9:30. Word is Bob Byington will be there for that screening.
And I ended the night in Alaska with GODSPEED (by the way, I used to live in Alaska, and seeing the Summer scenery again was pretty nice). Charlie Shepherd is a faith healer (get it, both charlatan and shepherd?) traveling to small events with his wife and son. Although it's pretty clear he's mostly a fake, there was a time once when he did heal someone. In fact, he seems to be doing it just as much to recapture the feeling he had in that one healing than for the money. That is, until his wife and son are brutally murdered, and he goes off and becomes a bearded alcoholic recluse (understandable, to be sure). The cops have no leads, and frankly not much sympathy for him, but he does meet a mysterious woman who drags him off to a fanatical religious compound. And then things get psychotic. The story is a typical revenge thriller, but the Alaskan setting and the religious ideas (you can't really call it pro-religious or anti-religious, although the anti-religious side is easier to see) kept me interested.
GODSPEED plays again Wednesday, Feb. 17th at 9:30.
My Total Minutes: 171,072
Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 9
Starting a second week, with all new movies. This is Friday, a day in the UK:First, up the Acid House documentary HIGH ON HOPE. 1980's Thatcherite Britain. Youth gather in warehouses for all-night raves and celebrate anything-goes freedom. This captures the attention of A) the government, who sees it as a lawless, drug-fueled scene that must be stamped out, and B) organized crime, who sees it as a lawless, drug-fueled scene that they can exploit. But mostly the movie focuses on the police angle. It's told through the excited anecdotes of the men and women who made it happen back in the day. And that's the whole problem. They're talking to each other--to the people who were there. There's an interesting story in there, but this movie is smothered with a "you had to be there" feeling. With a better storyteller enforcing a more engaging narrative on the anecdotes, this story has the potential to reach far beyond those who were at the Acid Houses. But as it is, this is an insider movie made for insiders, and leaves people like me out.
HIGH ON HOPE plays again Monday, Feb. 15th at 9:30
And then I stayed in the UK (through the power of cinema), and in the world of crime, for the dark comedy DOWN TERRACE. Bill and Karl are a father/son team. Bill has just gotten out of prison, and is obsessed with a) keeping his little crime enterprise afloat, and b) finding out who ratted on him and put him behind bars in the first place. What exactly their criminal enterprise is isn't exactly clear, but they spend most of their time in their flat alternating between drugs/alcohol and Alka Seltzer (unless there's some cool new drug I don't know about that you take in fizzy tablet form. I am habitually unhip about such things). As a series of associates pass through the flat, everyone is a suspect, and most will end up dead. Oh yeah, I said it was a comedy. It is...if you think shoving a woman in front of a moving car is funny (now that's slapstick). Seriously, this is intended to be funny, but since it's British and I'm not, I never know if I'm laughing inappropriately (which, to be fair, is my favorite way of laughing). I'm assured that the cast is full of British TV comedy actors. I wouldn't know, but their deadly deadpan gave me a good chuckle.
DOWN TERRACE plays again Wednesday, Feb 17th at 7:15
Total Runing Time: 161 minutes
My Total Minutes: 170,739
Friday, February 12, 2010
Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 8
On Sunday, Feb 14th at 5 pm come see an encore presentation of BEYOND THE POLE (still my favorite so far)
On Thurday, Feb 18th at 7:15 come spend the afterlife in San Francisco at LIMBO LOUNGE
And also on Thursday, Feb 18th at 9:30 see Andy Garcia and Juliana Margulies keep too many secrets and scream at each other in the comedy CITY ISLAND
And if you still can't get enough, and you like skiing, go to Sugar Bowl to ski with Indiefest and catch some free movies (at the Judah Lodge):
On Friday, Feb 26 at 7 pm see MY MOVIE GIRL with director Adam Bronstein (my review below)
Later that night, at 9 pm see yet another encore of BEYOND THE POLE (now none of my local readers have an excuse for missing it)
Then on Saturday, Feb 27 at 7 pm see the Superman doc LAST SON (I haven't seen it yet, but rest assured when I do I'll let you know)
At 8:15 there's a special Sugar Bowl only short, a snowboarding doc OPEN SPACE (damn, an Indiefest short I'll miss. I'll actually be at Cinequest)
And close out the night, and everything related to 2010 Indiefest at 9 pm with POINT TRAVERSE.
But I'm getting way ahead of myself. First you should come to Indiefest's famous Big Lebowski party, tonight (Friday, Feb 12th) 9 pm at Cell Space (2050 Bryant St at 18th).
Okay, finally on to the movies. Yeah, I saw a couple of movies last night, too:
First up, the suburban Quebec teenage aimlessness of WEST OF PLUTO. French Canadian high schoolers in a partially improvised slice of life. There's little plot to speak of. What plot there is revolves around a party that gets out of hand, the conscience-nerd girl who hosts it basically gets her house trashed, then her big brother goes out to hunt down and beat the crap out of the guys who did it. Mostly it's a collection of characters. An aspiring rock band with a really lousy singer, a fairly talented skater, an astronomy nerd who thinks Pluto being stripped of planetary status is bullshit, etc. These are framed by class presentations where the kids get up and talk about what excites them. Some are interesting, some are cool, some are funny (the kid who talks about his love of peanut butter is pretty amusing). But overall it doesn't go anywhere. And I know it's wrong of me to say this, but I had trouble following it because all French Canadiens look alike to me.
And then after a quick beer I settled in for MY MOVIE GIRL, directed by and starring local filmmaker Adam Bronstein, who I have to say did a great job promoting his movie all week, showing up in costume and handing out cards even on nights his movie didn't play. It's an autobiographical comedy of love and errors (redundancy alert!) Adam, a huge movie nerd, plays Adam, a huge movie nerd. Once he had an almost-magical night with Kate, but it ultimately went nowhere. So he decided to make a movie of that night, casting himself and Kate in the lead roles, so they could make out for hours (you know, for "coverage") and she'd fall in love with him. This...doesn't...work. So he has to re-cast the role of Kate. And none of the aspiring actresses are all that cool with it. Plus, although he's supposedly making a feature, he really only has that one scene. And to make matters worse, he meets two different girls who might just be perfect "replacements" for Kate in real life. Okay, I shouldn't say that's "worse," it makes matters more complicated. Especially with such a romantically clumsy doofus handling it. Oh yeah, and it's pretty funny, and the real love in here is the love of movies. There's a heartbreaking scene after he's had his heart broken and he wanders around San Francisco looking at all the old movie houses that are closed or repurposed. That really hit me. I've said it before, but I cry a little inside whenever I see an old cinema that's been turned into something useless...like a porno theater or a church.
BTW, best exchange in the movie: "That guy behind us looks just like Dirty Harry!" "Really? I think he looks more like that old guy in MILLION DOLLAR BABY."
Oh yeah, and in the introduction they asked everyone to put on their ballot what their favorite movie kiss is. I forgot to do that so here, for the record, is my favorite: MARQUIS (1989), Colin wakes Justine (who he thinks is dead) with a kiss. "Oh! An angel!"
Total Running Time: 187
My Total Minutes: 170,578
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 7
First up, a short doc THE LAST DAY IN THE NUT HOUSE. The Nut House, of course, being Morrow's Nut House, a long time San Francisco landmark run by "nut lady" Jackie Helbert. She retired and closed up shop a year ago on New Year's Eve, and mother/son team of Kathy and Nathan Kensinger were there to talk to her on the final day. Jackie was also there at this screening, and was pretty cool in person.
But even more eccentric was Harrod Blank, star of OH MY GOD! IT'S HARROD BLANK! Harrod grew up in the Bay Area, son of local film making legend ("This page is intentionally...") Les Blank. And he's a filmmaker in his own right. He's working on a Burning Man documentary, but has already made 3(?) docs about art cars, including AUTOMORPHOSIS which played at Indiefest last year. He's made two art cars--his camera van (which is currently in a garage, not running) and his first one, a VW Bug painted and decorated with an odd assortment of chickens (inspired by his childhood spent playing with chickens), flowers, and assorted weirdness. People would exclaim "Oh my God!" When they saw it, so that became the name of the car. Filmmaker and friend David Silverberg collected ~20 years of footage of Harrod, from a broke eccentric to recent years gaining fame, curating art car shows, and speaking at conferences about using attention-grabbing art to sell stuff (to help make the point, he wanders the conference wearing a suit covered in flash bulbs). Over that time, he goes through at least three very patient girlfriends (the third happily still with him) without ever quite growing up (although I gather he has moved out of his little shack, but maybe that's just because he's on the road all the time). It's an exhaustive look at a true professional eccentric who is still going strong. And although he didn't arrive by art car or don a flashbulb suit for the screening, he was there and still as engagingly witty as you'd expect.
Then a quick beer (festival bar is Gestalt, festival beer is Trumer Pils. Support the sponsors!) the late show was the shorts program "Games of Telephone." Shorts about (mis)communication: TRUE BEAUTY THIS NIGHT: A man calls the woman he met the night before to arrange returning her purse, with hilariously touching results
FELICITA: A Georgian woman working in Italy to save money for her family attends her husband's funeral by telephone
NICE SHOOTIN' COWBOY: A deal made in the woods. Two cars, buyers and sellers, and one very drugged woman.
SAPSUCKER: Damn bird, I'll hunt him and make a toothpick out of his beak.
CHRISTMAS NIGHT WITH FRANZ DUBERT: A Russian mail-order bride spends a Christmas night with her husband, daughter, and a fairy tale.
And ONE LAST TIME...had problems playing, so it wasn't shown. Okay, I missed one short film at Indiefest this year.
Total Running Time: 170 minutes
My Total Minutes: 170,391
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 6
Solidly in the middle of the fest, 2 movies a night, every night. Let's get right to it.
First up, a cheesy, silly, wacky, corny and completely successful comedy (in that it kept me laughing out loud), ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE UNDEAD. Premise: Hamlet--the real Hamlet--was a vampire. So was Horatio, in fact he still is. But Hamlet drank from the Holy Grail, and that cured his soul but preserved his immortality. Now Horatio has written a play--Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead--based on his real life story. All to get Hamlet to come out of hiding for a final showdown, or at worst to feast on the audience and turn the cast to vampires (saves on production costs). Meanwhile the secret society of Rosucrucians and Goldenstones seek to grail to protect it. And there are cameos by Ralph Macchio and Jeremy Sisto. And there's a ton of puns, and just about every cheesy joke title possible for the different segments. Oh yeah, and an easily manipulated human director is required for the play, because...there are arbitrary rules. So Julian it is. And his ex-girlfriend (whom he still carries a torch for) is cast as Olivia. An it's funny. The end
And then a completely different kind of movie A+D. I was not really that excited to see this movie, because the trailer looked really bad--just a couple (Alice and Dan, A+D) screaming at each other in faux home video footage. And there is a lot of that, but what the trailer doesn't show is the earlier footage of Alice and Dan meeting, falling in love, having very explicit sex (no penetration on screen, but lots of nudity). Now I don't want to say that the explicit sexuality made it better...but showing all of the relationship--the good, bad, and psychotic--made it a full story. The home video style worked...kind of...unless you think about what kind of a couple would do that to each other, much less screen it in public (to take the reality premise far too meta). But I guess the movie pretty well establishes they're both fucking nuts.Their first date includes spitting wine on the floor, and it goes crazier from there. One fight involves her insisting he scrape her vaginal discharge out of her panties with his teeth. And after remembering that scene, I have nothing else to say.
Total Running Time: 168
My Total Minutes: 170,221
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 5
The big first weekend is over. Time to kick back with just a couple of movies a night for the week. A quick note: I've been trying to be better at including links/info for later screenings in the festival. But now the movies I'm seeing during the week are all their last screenings in Indiefest. That is, until Friday when a whole new week of movies start. So I'm sorry in advance if I write about a movie that sounds great but isn't playing again.
The first show started with a short, HEARTLAND TRANSPORT. In 2009, when the Iowa Supreme Court legalized marriage equality, a busload of gay and lesbian couples travelled there to make their relationships legal, and filmmaker Cody Stokes was along for the joyous ride.
That short led into the feature documentary, BONECRUSHER. Up in the coal-mining mountains of Virginia lives Luther Chaffin. Aged 61 and now retired, he was a miner his whole life (like his dad and grandpa). He was called Bonecrusher somewhat ironically because he was such a little, skinny guy. But the name is also somewhat fitting as he was as strong and indestructible as anyone. Except now that he's suffering from lung cancer. His son Lucas, against his advice, is also starting a mining career. Between Luther's visits to the doctor and Lucas' days in the mine, it's an intimate portrait of a harsh life and tender familial love. Sometimes, like at family gatherings or at the local Little League field, it plays like a home movie of people I've never met but who invited me in and made me like them right away. And yes, this is despite me being a liberal tree-hugger who wishes there was no use for mining. For that matter, I don't think there's anyone in the movie who said they wouldn't rather have a safer, easier job if it paid just as well. It's just the only thing around that pays well. Here's hoping that's not always the case.
Then I saw one of the harder (and more fascinating) movies in the festival so far, POINT TRAVERSE. Although stuff happens, it's hard to call anything a "plot." It's more about creating characters, evoking a mood, and raising questions. The biggest question being, "Is Adwin just a little weird, or is he completely psycho?" He's a manager of a local chicken fast-food joint, which might not seem like a lot, but at least he can identify the five cuts of a chicken (leg, wing, rib, center breast,...damn, I forgot the fifth) by sight and that's more than you can say for his employee. In the opening scene he meets a mysterious stranger in an orange jacket. The next day, he finds that stranger dead--murdered in the middle of a frozen field (lake?). The cops question him, and let him go, and nothing more comes of that. Meanwhile an old friend Cael comes to town. They hang out, do stuff. As I said, not so much plot-based, and intentionally so. There are powerful scenes--the suicide graffiti; getting high and admitting to his girlfriend that he fantasizes about being a woman when he masturbates (a scene I took as a joke, but as far as I can tell no one else did); smothering an old man to death with a pillow; and the amazing (and absolutely real) slicer scene. The mood it creates is mostly discomfort, a lot of doubt, and a dash of awe at a filmmaker and actors who would do this.
Total Running Time: 180 minutes
My Total Minutes. 170,053
Sunday, February 7, 2010
Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 4
And it was a long day of shorts.
First up, a program of local documentary talent, Life NorCal Style.
EL MILAGRO DE STOCKTON: A working class guy in Stockton finds a rock with the image of the virgin of Guadalupe on it. They mention that the more faith you have, the easier it is to see. I saw a funny colored rock.
DRUGS: An interesting set of interviews of people in various stages of drug addiction and (attempted) recovery. Particularly thought-provoking for not being a scare film but for letting drug users explain how the drugs make them feel good.
SECOND NATURE: It's a bit loose to call this a documentary, it's a kick-ass skating film down winding mountain roads. Great adrenaline-pumping footage.
A SENTENCE APART: A sobering look at the effects of incarcerated parents on their children.
NEW AMERICAN SOLDIER: About 5% of the U.S. military are immigrants. Half of those are not citizens. But serving puts them on the fast track to citizenship. A look at Americans loyal enough to sacrifice their lives for a country that does not let them vote or be officers (until, of course, they get their citizenship)
Life NorCal Style plays again on Monday, Feb. 8 at 9:30
And then I saw the program, None of the Above. A series of shorts about choices, and my favorite of the festival so far.
IL VINCITORE (THE WINNER): A brilliant bit of absurdity from Italy. People are given numbers and assigned the most menial jobs--like being a sprinkler, trash can, or billboard. But few lucky lottery winners get a chance at a real job, which turns them into the clown-like white collar ruling class.
MEDICINE MAN: A boy will do anything to cure his paralyzed father. Even travel to the Adirondacks to find the great-grandson of an Iroquois shaman who might know of a plant that can cure him.
EMOTION MALFUNCTION: When computers learn to love, the world collapses in this visual trip.
THE GYNECOLOGIST: A doctor shows poor medical ethics, refusing to examine a patient just because "she" is a man. My favorite of the series (and festival so far)
LIFE ON EARTH: An orphan about to age out of the system struggles with following the "life skills" course because she refuses to settle for the limited career choices offered.
None of the Above plays again Thursday, Feb. 11 at 9:30
And then yet another shorts program. This time a series on loneliness, You're Not the Only, Lonely
BEAN: A bright young girl struggles to get her mother to acknowledge her. The mom is a total selfish bitch.
WEIGHT: The life of a clown. Sometimes all the helium balloons in the world can't counteract the weight of the world.
LOLLIPOP MAN: Title refers to the sign a school crossing guard uses. After a train accident in London, the traffic--and hence the lollipop man's job--is a huge hassle. Annoying fathers who don't care for safety rules don't make anything easier.
ME, YOU, A BAG, & BAMBOO: Funny, visually and mentally playful story of a lonely guy and girl with crazy back stories watching a robot boy have a seizure.
BACKYARD: A boy playing in the backyard learns a secret about his neighbor and the meter man who pays her a visit.
PENANCE: A man with a troubled past runs a landscaping service. He bonds with his assistant--a man with Asperger's syndrome. But there's trouble from a bad influence.
You're Not the Only, Lonely plays again Monday, Feb. 8 at 7:15
And finally a feature, THE BLOOD OF REBIRTH by beloved Indiefest alum Toshiaki Toyoda (BLUE SPRING, NINE SOULS, HANGING GARDEN). This time he travels to medieval Japan, when Gods and Demons ruled, before humans fully took over. A simple masseur refuses to cooperate with a lord (although his massage technique apparently helps the lords VD-riddled, pumpkin-sized balls). Instead, he helps a captive woman escape, and for that he is murdered. But he comes back as a "hungry ghost" fleeing with the princess to find the pool of rebirth, build up his strength (by staying submerged in the pool for days) and getting his revenge. Beautifully shot (which I could've expected after his stunning step up with HANGING GARDEN in 2005, but this was even way beyond that) and with minimal dialogue, he let's the story and the mood speak for itself in long, sustained, deliberate shots. Absolutely beautiful, but you need to be prepared to be patience with the lingering gaze of his camera.THE BLOOD OF REBIRTH plays again Thursday, Feb. 11 at 7:15
Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 3
4 movies on Saturday. Easy day, let's get right to it:
First up was the U.S. premiere (okay, technically the premiere was the screening the night before) of the Australian coming of age story LESS ADOLESCENT. Emmanuel is a young man dealing with a lot of issues that are all sort of brought to a head by his mother's sudden death (which is issue #1). The he's got his dad. His parents split up long ago, and is dad is living in a sort of halfway house (although drugs, alcohol, or crime is never really specified). Visits with his dad are strained at best, and made no better by his aunt always talking shit about him. Oh yeah, after his mom dies Emmanuel goes to live with his aunt who is pretty mean to him (granted, she's dealing with the loss of her only sister, and she's dealing with her own son who is never around to visit and has a secret of his own). And to be sure, his dad isn't a really good guy, as evidenced by the other woman with which he had a daughter while married to Emmanuel's mom. So now Emmanuel has a half-sister he never knew about. And thank god for that. I was afraid for a while there would be no relationship in the movie that I could really get behind and sympathize with. Every relationship is one of loss for Emmanuel, except with his newly gained sister who tentatively brings out the best in him. By far the best relationship in the movie, to the point where at times I found myself waiting for more scenes with her. But ultimately everyone gets a chance at a touch of redemption. Nicely done on nearly no budget. Oh yeah, and there's a mysterious person in a bear suit that keeps showing up, and makes for a nice subplot.
That was the last screening of LESS ADOLESCENT in the festival. Sorry.
Next up was the shorts program "The End is Not the End." Stories of endings--be they end of life, end of stories, or end of anything else)
ADRIFT: Strange nonlinear meditation in fountains in Rome--old woman, young girl, death...
THE LAST PAGE: He might be the first guy ever to die of writer's block. If nothing else, it's causing him a lot of pain. Very funny.
IN SPACE: Thai film of a young man who always had a different way of looking at the world. He becomes a Buddhist monk after the death of his grandmother.
DREAMLAND: Non_linear snippets of a 1940's-50's crime investigation, inspired in equal parts noir film and crime scene photography. Pretty cool after I just spent a week at Noir City.
TUNGIJUQ: Visually stylish adventure of natives hunting their prey.
RUFUS: Not all vampires are sexy. Some have a hard time just getting dates. Hilarious.
This shorts program plays again Tuesday, Feb 9 at 9:30
Next up was CITY ISLAND, a comedy of unnecessary secrets. Andy Garcia is Frank Rizzo, a corrections officer (i.e., a prison guard) who lives on a tiny spit on the sound off Brooklyn called City Island. Most people are surprised to find the place even exists, but his grandfather built a home there that he lives in now. Juliana Margulies plays his wife, an they're constantly fighting and keeping secrets from each other. Neither one knows the other didn't actually quit smoking, but Frank's bigger secret is that...he's taking an acting class. And covering it up by claiming he's out playing poker (don't think about that too hard. I already said it's a comedy of unnecessary secrets). Okay, actually he has a bigger secret--he just met his son Tony in jail. That's his son he had with another woman before he met his wife. And that would be the woman he walked out on before his son was born. He's up for parole, if only he had a family member to take him. So Frank makes a deal to release Tony into his custody, but doesn't explain to Tony or any of his family why. Oh yeah, the rest of the family has secrets, too. Their daughter was expelled from school and is now working as a stripper, and their son is a sarcastic closet chubby chaser who's obsessed with their next door neighbor. In comparison, he's the normal one in the family (check that, jailbird Tony is the normal one, they just don't know he's part of the family). Of course, all these secrets will have to come to a head, and that's pushed forward by Frank's partner in acting class who pushes him to go to an audition...for a Scorsese/De Niro film...and he gets called back. But of course his wife thinks he's having an affair...and might want to get back at him...and Tony does look pretty goof doing chores with his shirt off.... Eventually the flood gates open and everyone's secrets come out in one explosion. It's like the filmmakers set out to set a world record for the biggest fight scene with the most total secrets revealed (and I've left a few out of this review). While watching it, I actually had a great time. I just can't think about it too hard afterwards or I'll realize how silly it really is.
CITY ISLAND plays again Wednesday Feb 10 at 7:15
And the last show was a double feature of long-ish shorts. I know these 40-50 minute shorts are hard to program--too long for a typical shorts program or to pair with a feature, too short to be a program in and of themselves. So often, like this time, they're paired with a sort of tenuous thematic connection. In this case, a sense of isolation.
Oh yeah and it doesn't help when both of these could've been a lot shorter.
LILLI is a story from Italy of a nice guy who does his job and adores his cute doggie Lilli. So it's really sad when Lilli is run over by a car. Sadder still that his mom (whom he lives with) just thinks he should move on and buries Lilli in the backyard without waiting for him. He wanted to take Lilli to a pet cemetery in Milan.
SECURE SPACE is a tense story of wedding preparations in Haifa during rocket attacks from Lebanon. Well done, and an interesting balance of hope, fear, and going on with life even during difficult times.
Both of these films were well done, but again both could've been shorter.
LILLI & SECURE SPACE plays again Tuesday, Feb 9 at 7:15
Total Running Time: 353 minutes
My Total Minutes: 169,530
Saturday, February 6, 2010
Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 2
We started out right home in San Francisco...and in the afterlife, with LIMBO LOUNGE. Small time San Francisco con man Silas pulls only small solo jobs ever since his partner/girlfriend Anya died a year ago. After a night of fleecing some guys at dice, he's hit by a car and wakes up in purgatory--i.e., stuck in gridlock before the Bay Bridge. He can't leave the car, and the radio constantly plays Limbo Rock as some sort of corny joke that ensures anyone is batshit crazy by the time they make it to heaven. He can't even get out of the car, until Anya shows up and lets him out. Turns out, she's got a nice gig harvesting souls for hell, and if he follows her lead he can become staff, too. And trust me, it's better to work in hell than live there. All he has to do is corrupt timid, sweet ad-woman Jules. And hey, he's a con man so manipulating people is easy for him. To help him and monitor his progress she gives him a handheld device that displays the percentage corruption of her soul and gives him two "bursts"--30 minutes of physical presence on earth (Harvesting souls? There's an app for that). So...a lot of this high concept setup was pretty strained and was close to losing me. But I stuck with it and eventually there were twists that satisfied me and got me to care about the characters. It took a while, and some of the transitions were kinda forced, but eventually it did become about the characters more than the gimmicks. Plus I really liked the gag of a BART train to heaven (disclosure, I'm writing this on the BART right now)
LIMBO LOUNGE plays again Wednesday, Feb 10 at 9:30.
Next up was a hilarious mockumentary from the UK, BEYOND THE POLE. Fellow eco-warriors Mark and Brian are determined to bring attention to the melting polar ice by being the first unaided, carbon-neutral, vegetarian, all organic expedition to the north pole. Only problem is neither of them are experienced campers and they're equipped with more zeal than supplies. Especially Mark, the leader, who is kinda crazy to begin with and goes completely nuts during the trek. After a bit of training (including cold acclimation in a meat freezer that's not good for their veggie sensibilities), they're on there way, encountering polar bears (which their cameraman/guide Steve helpfully shoots), much better equipped Norwegian competition (including Alexander Skarsgard from HBO's "True Blood"), the elements, freezing waters, and news from back home that makes Brian want to turn back. Hilarious and fun, it's quite a journey. BEYOND THE POLE just got released in the UK on the strength of the fans and online support. Here's hoping they have the same success here (I've done my bit not just by writing here, but by joining their facebook fan group).
BEYOND THE POLE plays again Sunday, Feb 7 at 2:45.
Running Time: 177 minutes
My Total Minutes: 169,177