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.

Anyway, it was a 4 movie Saturday. Let's get to it.

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

Next up I saw the festival's closing night film, HARMONY AND ME...even though there's still 5 days of festival left. Bob Byington (RSO, Indiefest 2009) is back with another cleverly meandering character comedy. Harmony (Justin Rice) has been recently dumped by Jessica (Kristen Tucker). They've been dating for a year, so the traditional mourning period is half that time. But she knew it was over 9 months in, and already started mourning. I.e., she's way beyond him but she's still breaking his heart. Meanwhile, Harmony is so out of it that when his hospitalized boss is told he has 1 day to live he blindly writes "Get well soon" on the card (by the way, the eulogy later is one of the funniest things I've ever seen). He spends his days "accidentally" running into Jessica. He tries to go out with his crazy neighbor. He gets fired, he sings at a wedding, he gets a new job as a meter maid. Not a lot of this has much to do with traditional plot structure, but it was all pretty funny.

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.

Total Running Time: 333 minutes
My Total Minutes: 171,072

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